Perfume Reviews

Reviews by Varanis Ridari

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Total Reviews: 1155

Phantom by Paco Rabanne

Enjoying a fragrance like this is probably going to get me a couple of punches to the gut, but I've hated things popular to love and loved things popular to hate before, so I don't really care. Let's acknowledge that Phantom by Paco Rabanne (2021) screams all things tacky and gauche, being a bottle in the shape of a toy robot with a built-in connectivity to your phone via some NFC chip embedded in the sprayer. Furthermore, Paco Rabanne themselves conjure up a whole litany of hyperbolic talking points about why the stuff is so revolutionary and cutting-edge, right on down to why they chose each of its four perfumers, including Long Doc, Dominique Ropion, Juliette Karaguezoglou, and Anne Flipo. Even all that isn't the biggest thing to mention about this fragrance before I get into what it actually smells like, as the very genesis of Phantom's design is the thing collectors and hobbyists within the online fragrance community have feared for years: Perfume by artificial intelligence. Magazines and online blogs have for years talked about various machine learning techniques being deployed by different chemical suppliers like Givaudan, IFF, and Firmenich to assist master perfumers like Alberto Morillas in place of books and Human minds with the mundane location and dosage of materials to get the desired accords; but this is far worse because it leaves the bulk of the creative heavy-lifting to machine learning itself, something we knew was coming but hoped wouldn't. The so-called "Augmented Creativity" software at IFF was pumped full of marketing data and then pooped out a lump that all 4 perfumers had to shape, and that is Phantom. Buckle your seat belts kids, this ride gets rough.

Now how does it smell? Well, Phantom smells good, as you might expect. It combines really unorthodox notes in ways only a machine could fathom to do, so the opening is sweet creamy lemon and apple, fruity in ways that remind me of ice cream or a smoothie from Jamba. The brand boasts "Lavender 3.0" as three different lavandin sources (so not true lavender) in each tier of the note pyramid, although the lavender note is exceedingly sharp and cold like Prada Luna Rossa Carbon (2017) after the dessert top notes fade. Vanilla warms the composition but then a sharp metallic note coming from an unsuspecting source of styrallyl acetate enters the picture. There isn't anything special about this particular acetate other than it powered the green and metallic facets of classics like Carven's Ma Griffe (1946) or Miss Dior (1947), so it showing up here is like stuffing galbanum into a Paco Rabanne Invictus (2013) flanker. Add in some vetiver smoke and akigalawood to the mix, then suddenly the dry down isn't much seeming like the crazy frozen confectionery top. The sweetness drops off almost completely midway, which really makes me think the AI was shooting for the 15 to 50 age window, replacing the unconventional but still youthful compliment-getting opening salvo with a green woody and aromatic finish that could see someone slip out of his Addidas track suit and into an Armani business suit instead. Sclarene from clary sage like in H24 by Hermès (2021) is the abused aromchemical of the year found in the base alongside more lavandin (because Lavender 3.0 y'all), more vetiver, and traces of the citrus from the opening, oddly more evident likely due to the acetates extending them. Wear time is forever, and because this stuff was made by a machine without context in mind, I can't offer any on how to use it.

Now that we know what we are dealing with, a fully-realized AI perfume shaped by 4 perfumers into something we can wear, any and all criticism about artistic merit falls moot because there simply is none. This fragrance is one that a machine said "this is what you want" when you tell it you need perfume to boost sexiness, confidence, and energy (based on market copy) plus make the wearer feel "happy". Take that then fine-tune out the things which the algorithm gets wrong, and claim it was at least touched by Human hands. We joke about Dior Sauvage (2015) being this because of how cold and unfeeling it is, how focused on performance and mass-appeal it was, but it is still primarily from the imagination of a Human perfumer; this fragrance is not, and is the direct result of when a desire to optimize a product so far trumps everything that even Human intuition is cut from the creation process. I honestly don't know how I feel about Phantom. On one hand, this is a bizarre and fascinating journey that can't help but admire; but on the other hand, this kind of path could lead us to something like I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, which is pretty scary. The fragrance itself is a total unfeeling jumbled mess in ways that Dior Sauvage never could be in spite of the jokes, yet somehow still smells pleasant. Unlike Paco Rabanne 1 Million (2008), no cynicism finds its way into the composition because "Augmented Creativity" is incapable of that, but no other emotion does either. I like Phantom in spite of the tacky, gimmicky packaging and ad copy, but part of me doesn't want to like it because the emotional responses it triggers are uncomfortable. The uncanny valley in fragrance has been reached. Thumbs up
25th July, 2021

Libre Intense by Yves Saint Laurent

Libre Intense by Yves Saint Laurent (2020) likely addresses some concerns people may have had about the original Libre by Yves Saint Laurent (2019), by moving away from the intently floral musk-meets-lavender fougère design of the original, something that confused or made ambivalent the majority of people who weren't ready to receive something quite like that. I won't say that where Libre Intense goes is somewhere more conventional, but it is somewhere more familiar. More or less, returning perfumers Carlos Benaim and Anne Flipo have taken Libre further in the floral direction, and leaned on more traditional elements in the base to push Libre further into the fougère box; although not necessarily away from the modern floral musk side, but rather seeing the ambergris accord take on greater prominence alongside tangerine replacing manderin, and tonka bean being added too. In some ways Libre Intense smells more masculine than the original Libre, but in other ways, it also smells just generally more like classic perfumery which will be more familiar territory for everyone smelling it, regardless of gender. What I'm getting at here is Libre Intense feels friendlier to lovers of vintage styles, while also still staying in the modern pocket, being a greater representation of "something for everyone" that may be better for those not happy with Libre.

The opening is similar to Libre in that instantly you get that mix of neroli and lavender that defines the personality of Libre, although the ostensibly modern fruity tones of blackcurrant are gone and in their place is bergamot. The drier tangerine switches in for mandarin in original Libre, furthering the classic feel in my mind, while jasmine sambac and the new addition of an orchid accord form the heart. Libre Intense from this point forward becomes a slightly greener, more aromatic, and musky affair. An ambergris accord from ambroxan mixed with some ambrocenide musky ambery essence, further imbued with a roasty tonka feel adds that reinforced almost semi-oriental fougère quality that gets enriched with nutty smoky elements from the vetiver. Overall, the jasmine and orchid become star players alongside the lavender, which begins to finally fade into base, which continues to remain musky, a bit woody, and smoky with the hay aspects of tonka finishing things off. A rich and rarified women's fougère is this, almost seemingly reinterpreted straight out of the pre and post-WWII period when these kinds of things had their brief moment in the sun before fougère were absconded by men. Wear time is long at 10 hours, but projection is not intense like the name. Best use is casual, romantic, cold weather, or at night. I feel this rides fairly unisex, but I'm also more open-minded than the average bloke reviewing perfumes these days.

If you weren't buying into pretty pink princess presentation and almost peony-like softness of the original Libre by Yves Saint Laurent, you are much in luck; Libre Intense is very much a big girl perfume that smells mature, refined, expensive enough to pass by the snobs, and boldly confident enough that any men in your life can share it too (behind your back most likely). This stuff has the can-do attitude of of classic grand dame orientals like YSL's own Opium (1977), which is why I like it, and really this could have just as easily been the main pillar of Libre itself while the pink juice in the actual Libre bottle can be swept under the rug to be forgotten. Now, I say this fully liking Libre and both Libre Intense, but serious perfume lovers tend to like their perfumes serious, and Libre still had too many fun-loving pops about it a la Chanel Madamoiselle (2002) which just reads as cheap or immature to the kind of person that's going to read a review about this perfume before blindly charging into Ulta or Sephora to be talked into testing it by the sales people. Yes, I'm looking at you Miss "Shalimar is my everything", this is a modern fragrance you may actually be able to get behind because it doesn't smell like a girl's Calgon spray and even your hipster boyfriend with poor taste in hats and indie rock could easily sport a spray of this on his collar. Thumbs up
25th July, 2021

Lalique White by Lalique

Lalique White (2008) sort of gets looked upon now as being a bit boring or beige, and I guess if looked upon with the perspective of comparing it to everything that has released in its wake, one could easily reach that conclusion. There is nothing terribly exciting or complex about Lalique White when you look at things like Parfums de Marly Galloway (2014) or cK All (2017) that have tread similar citric floral territory since, and have also been called boringly pleasant or serviceable too, but in 2008 there wasn't much like this being sold to men either. Now, I'm not implying that being first to invent an unexciting but pleasant style of peppery floral for men should make you immune to criticism whether you get copied and become an exploited trope or not, because regardless of success or failure on a commercial scale, white bread is still white bread. However, if you're going to eat white bread, I assume you'd want a really low-cost and high-quality one baked with a little bit of pride and signature flair to it, which is what this is. I'm not often a white bread guy either, but when I want it, I just go for always-consistent Wonder Bread rather than one of its 2000 dicey imitators.

Christine Nagel made this for Lalique before she was snatched up to replace Jean-Claude Ellena at Hermès and it shows. Her style at times echoes Ellena's but also at times seems to go in even more abstract simplified directions, with evidence of the latter here in Lalique White. The opening is bright lemon verbena, tamarind, and a flurry of ionones and hedione that identify violet and some other abstract floral notes that then get dotted with pepper, cardamom, and nutmeg to add some spicy dustiness. Connections to the later Galloway and cK All are evident here, but this is a bit spicier and more floral than them. There is a pencil shavings cedar not present in them too, as they go with a more-modern ambroxan-type base. A bit of Oscar de La Renta Gentleman (2017) can also be extrapolated from this 2000's forerunner, and then some light amber, oakmoss, and galaxolide musks round things out. Clean, peppery, citric, floral, woody, and just about as crisp white shirt of a scent as you could ask for, at a time when those kinds of things weren't in vogue, just yet. Best use is in an office but you could also rock this casually in temperate weather outside with performance right down the middle, and this could also lean unisex too.

Lalique just had another forward-thinking masculine fragrance success with the Nathalie Lorson composition Encre Noire (2006), so it makes sense that they would do something "equal opposite" and keep pushing further into the realms of modernism. Their more classically-minded Lalique pour Homme (1997), while an extraordinary Maurice Roucel composition that breathed life into a sagging fougère genre, was not what Lalique needed to maintain relevance with its mostly over-30 white-collar male buyer, as not all of them wanted to smell like a variation of Gordon Gekko. Lalique White was the answer to that probably unvoiced concern, and even seems to share a bottle with Lalique pour Homme sans the embossed animal head (for a storied glass maker, they sure re-use a lot of bottles). Lalique White is good even if not very engaging with its "budget Creed" vibe, because its just different and interesting enough to go "hey, I'm here" throughout the day, rather than being another depressing aquatic or fresh fougère exercise which had by 2008 become olfactive white noise at the office. Now that a lot of companies bake their white bread like Lalique first did, it can get lost among the loaves, some actually higher-priced for making virtually the same sandwich. Thumbs up
19th July, 2021
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Cuiron by Helmut Lang

There are a lot of people who worship this one and I gotta tell you, I don't really get it. What's perhaps most amusing too is the way the brand really harps on the leatheriness of the fragrance, when upon actual smelling of the fragrance, you realize there is very little here that smells like leather. Now Françoise Caron is a perfumer who I highly respect; she's done underdog classics like Un Homme Charles Jourdan (1979) and more popular releases like Hermès Eau d'Orange Vert (1979) or Ombre Rose by Jean-Charles Brosseau (1981), but I admit much of her more-recent output seems a lot less memorable, and I guess this is another one to throw on that pile. Maybe too, her early work just was different before she found her inherent style, and now that she has, I just don't click with it (like how some people feel about early versus more-contemporary Jean-Claude Ellena). Whatever the cause, I don't find much interesting or much truth about Helmut Lang Cuiron (2002), although I'm far from hating it either. Helmut Lang's cologne range was almost considered minimalist upon launch, like a late 70's post-punk record but channeled by way of smell. I can sort of see it here, but that doesn't make Cuiron better as a fragrance. The most interesting concepts can still lead to works that fail to resonate, which is why so much post-punk is lauded only in retrospect, and also add that this is a pricey unicorn, and I'm even less interested.

The whole "fluid leather" mixed with "sensual leather" and "noble leather" nonsense as the note breakdown is exactly that, although at different points Helmut Lang has also published different note pyramids, with the original 2002 release stated as orange, bergamot, cinnamon, pepper, suede, tobacco, and labdanum. Once Lang did a limited reissue in 2014, that note pyramid expanded to bergamot, orange, cassia, pink pepper, carrot seed, suede, ambrette, olibanum, and cedar. From my nose, I detect an unlisted juniper opening mixed with some bergamot and something mildly aldehydic before getting into pink pepper and cassia. The leather note seems to be suerderal, which is a common synthetic suede note that has turned up in several 2000's Avon fragrances containing it, including Avon Prospect/Open Road (2003) which has both the juniper and suede facets of Cuiron, plus still turns up in some mild leather things like Coach for Men (2017). Past that, we get the woody amberish stuff and some late-stage soapiness that really distracts from what leather is supposed to be there, and that's a wrap. Wear time is about 6 hours and sillage mild, as this was sold to be an eau de cologne. Best use for me, if I were to use this, is as a casual dumb-reach splash when I wanted something of a non-fragrance freshener in spring or fall, when a light jacket goes on and I run out to grab fast food or something. Cuiron doesn't have personality for much else.

I can sort of see what Helmut Lang was going for here, as he is a minimalist former fashion designer turned artist and architect, best known for his utilitarian designs and basic ascetic shapes. Unfortunately for me, fragrance is either a functional part of grooming (after shaves, shampoos) that can be ignored after initial use, or an extension of personality and taste that has to say something to me for the duration of the time I decide to spend with it on skin. I'm perfectly okay with that "something" being superficial or vapid (like a mass-appeal designer) if it is at least entertaining to some degree, or something with quiet grace and elegance brought about by artistic filigree and refinement (like a perfectly pleasant office scent a la Prada or Chanel), but when you make a fragrance that is just -there- and says -nothing- for itself, I tune out. In a similar manner to so many super generic budget aquatics or soapy clean nothingness florals, Helmut Lang Cuiron is just there, and it doesn't even nail the subject of leather very well unless you like your leather aroma to come from a hanging tree from your car's rear-view mirror. For people who really fell in love with this intentionally bleak and de-saturated soapy interpretation of leather, you can have it with no further fuss from me, but I maintain I'll never know what your fuss is about. Neutral
19th July, 2021

Eau Duelle Eau de Toilette by Diptyque

Diptyque Eau Duelle (2010) is a vanilla fragrance plain and simple, so if you don't care for vanilla as the focus of a fragrance, this won't appeal to you. Beyond that, the vanilla is moved and shaped through traditional top, heart, and base note players, so it isn't a one-note-wonder exactly, but you really have to look for the other stuff in order to smell it. Eau Duelle is perfumed by Fabrice Pellegrin and comes in eau de toilette and eau de parfum varieties, plus is one of the last modern Diptyque releases to do so, as most major releases anymore in the 2010's and beyond seem to only come in the higher-cost-per-ml EdP variation. This is a move which subtly pulls the brand upmarket unless you're after the classics that may or may not survive in their original EdT forms depending on how this business move goes, and one that has irked me more and more as I watch these 75ml EdPs roll out without a 100ml EdT counterpart, which before could be expected as the "standard" variation. At least with Eau Duelle, there seems to be little difference between both EdT and EdP since the focus is so narrowly on vanilla almost as a soliflore, so there may be no need to try both. Now this is a rare example of something I wouldn't buy but can appreciate enough from a compositional standpoint to condone it.

The opening is sweet and creamy as expected, with a big vanilla that comes mixed up with some pink pepper and cardamom for a bit of dusty spice. Elemi resin, calamus, and a slight rose inform the heart, while a bit of cypriol sourness acts to push the vanilla out of its corner then fades so the vanilla can take the microphone. It's at this point that the gist of what you're going to smell is achieved, and for the next eight hours, slightly dusty spiced vanilla with a resinous backbone and a touch of floral sophistication becomes the major melody being played. Eventually halfway through the wear, the base starts sneaking in with bits of amber, saffron, some sort of sandalwood proxy, and a musk that feels most like labdanum, making this a proper oriental fragrance by some accounts, but that vanilla is still looming over it all like an overcast sky. Eau Duelle falls just short of smelling like a bakery or a sugar cookie, thankfully, and sits quietly on skin. A person who likes this is likely someone who also enjoys things like Guerlain Spiritueuse Double Vanille (2007) or Creed Sublime Vanille (2009) but maybe not the price or scarcity of those, so Eau Duelle makes a good lower-cost alternative despite also being at a niche price point (just lower down the ladder). Best use for me would be at home when cozy, or on a romantic evening, and vanilla is of course perfectly unisex because everyone likes smelling it in passing.

There isn't a whole lot more to say about Eau Duelle than that, although its popularity suggested copycats like Atelier Cologne Vanille Insensée (2011) or maybe vanilla itself just got a huge gust of interest among niche purveyors in the late 2000's through early 2010's. Eau des Missions by Le Couvent Maison de Parfum (2011) used to be a lower-cost alternative to this Diptyque, but time revealed that scent a limited or discontinued release that must have failed and gotten dumped into discounters for international dispersal, so now the tables have turned and Diptyque Eau Duelle represents probably the best value in niche vanilla fragrances around. Of course, there are still drugstore vanillas like Coty Vanilla Fields (1993) but that too has been discontinued, so something like the adjacent Coty Vanilla Musk (1994) with its heaps of ambery musk is really as close as one can get to this quality of oriental-inflected vanilla fragrance for a turned-out-pockets budget, and it's not realistically close. Funny to see something we think of as ubiquitous like vanilla become an exclusive subject of higher-end niche fragrances anymore, but real vanilla is expensive anyway, just ask mom about what she sticks in her pound cake. Thumbs up
18th July, 2021

Black Tea by Murdock

Black Tea by Murdock (2010) is not really a tea fragrance in the sense of what you may expect from one, but it is very nice. Murdock London is sort of a late-coming entry into the arena of old-school Victorian-styled UK luxury barbers, likely taking the spot that Penhaligon's relinquished when corporate owner Puig closed their last remaining barbershop location and fully converted the age-old barber/chemist/perfumer establishment into a full-blown upmarket niche perfume brand that banks on its legacy. With Geo F Trumper being the only other real competitor in this antique barber/chemist/perfumer market, Murdock London was poised to quietly take over for Penhaligon's and spread across London from its original Shoreditch location. Now Murdock London, which is not exactly a carbon-copy operation of Victorian barbershop tradition, does clearly add some modern twists to classic tropes, and that's really evident with Black Tea. Of the Murdock fragrances, only two really turn up scenting the brand's shaving and grooming toiletries, with the flagship scent Avalon (2010) adorning all the shaving products and Black Tea being used to scent the body wash, beard shampoos, and some of the hair groom products. Therefore it stands to reason that if you're a fan of these products and want that finishing touch after using them, you should probably own both of these, with all the other standalone fragrances being purely optional.

Avalon is a crisp modern exercise in a traditional berbershop eau de cologne, while Black Tea comes across like a traditional barbershop "Cuir de Russie" style birch tar leather heavy on goodies like clove, but retrofitted with modern base materials and touches. The actual tea note here is slight, and really only shows up into the late dry down if I'm to be honest. The opening is clove, nutmeg, basil, black pepper, and a stiff almost metholated type note, in other words very properly British. This bracing beginning lingers into the mid and eventually curls back to allow a dry birch tar leather note to emerge, being a little sour and a little tart, but eventually sitting atop more modern musks like cashmeran and woods like Iso E Super. I get something that feels like cypriol in the base too, and maybe a pinch of vetiver and patchouli. Tea only appears near the end, and really by that point you've focused on the leather and aromatics anyway. The whole thing falls short of a superlative like "stunning", but wears well for quite a long pace, although if you layer this up with the body wash you can push this wear time into nearly a day. By itself, the mysterious concentration of "British Cologne" will go 10 hours with modest projection and low-key but noticeable sillage. Best use is as a daily driver if you use the products, or just as a work scent here and there if not, being very neutral in context appropriateness. Black Tea is just a clean and piquant masculine smell, period.

Complaints if I could make them would be that this kind of leathery dry style has been done a lot by modern niche brands, and with Murdock London scents generally being exclusive to places like Nordstrom in the US with no discounts to be found online, $115 to smell like this may seem a lot when there are tons of options. You sort of have to be all-in on the Murdock brand with ownership of the adjunct scented products to really find value in this fragrance, as Black Tea just falls a tiny bit flat once you start looking into tea fragrances (or even other leather fragrances) around this price point. Also the packaging feels a bit confused to me, since you get this nice coffret presentation and then the bottle housed in a drawstring cloth bag within the little depression of the coffret, but the bottle itself is very generic in a utilitarian way. The cap is heavy metal like a niche product, and the label has this industrial printed look a la Le Labo, which looks both cheap and somehow "hipster chic" all at once, with "British Cologne" beneath the name. At least the sprayer is nice, with a pressurized feel like Dior Sauvage (2015) that lets you control the sprays. Still, if you love British barbershop traditions and don't mind a bit of an import premium or some modern subversion here or there, Black Tea by Murdock is a mostly reasonably-priced scent that makes more sense as part of the grooming range, but by itself is serviceable enough to pass entry-level niche muster. Thumbs up
18th July, 2021

Coach Blue by Coach

Coach Blue (2020) is another completely throw-away aquatic flanker to a line that didn't need one nor really makes sense to have one. Coach for Men (2017), which was effectively an all-new fragrance reusing the name from the 2009 original and effectively rebooting the brand's fragrance efforts after a failed "Leatherware" line, was itself an interesting modern leather scent. Coach Platinum (2018) did little to build upon that but was still nice in its own right, even if I ultimately didn't retain interest in it. This blue... thing, is not really comparable even to Coach Platinum and surely has zero to do with Coach for Men outside of being forced to share its bottle. I honestly thought Azzaro Wanted Tonic (2020) was just about the worst aquatic flanker I had ever smelled anywhere, but I was sorely mistaken, as it has serious competition with Coach Blue.

For starters, you get a rather nice lime opening with a bit of ozonic zip and shout, nothing too unusual there. This is a similar setup as Azzaro Wanted Tonic, having me believe they may be sister formulas since they both saw release the same year. There's an "absinthe" note here which means absolutely nothing to me, as I get no wormwood or anything remotely boozy at all from Coach Blue, although some nondescript Nautica-like fruitiness and the usual aquatic aromachemicals I'm not prattling off come into view before long. If Ed Hardy or Avon had done something like this, I'd cut some slack as those are both bargain barrel brands but this sells for $100 at retail so no mercy here. The base in the most vague way possible reminds me of L'Eau d'Issey pour Homme by Issey Miyake (1994), like we're dealing with an AliExpress version of it. Beyond that, there's nothing, nada, and no performance after 2 hours. Thank you for money, hope you like the bottle.

At least Azzaro Wanted Tonic had some patchouli or some other thing in it to at least say "hey, there's a base in here, we think", but this stuff just goes "screeeeee" out of the bottle, onto your skin, then curls up into a ball and cries after two hours. If you stick your face down to your skin, you'll get some kind of harsh woodiness, left over residue from whatever citrus notes and hedione remains, and lingering traces of that dollar store Issey Miyake nightmare, and that's it. I'm guessing someone in Coach corporate HQ just had to have an aquatic because everyone has one of those right? Well, here it is, and it totally sucks. I highly recommend you buy some random Nautica fragrance or even an Old Spice body spray before buying this, as you're getting a higher quality fragrance with a better value proposition. You couldn't give me this stuff, and if you somehow do, it's staying in the box until I can give it away myself. Thumbs down.
18th July, 2021

Armani Code Absolu by Giorgio Armani

Full disclaimer here: I am not a fan of the original Armani Code (2004), or Armani Black Code as it was originally known. Any and all flankers from this extremely popular line have therefore had an uphill battle with me, one that typically ends in ambivalence on my end, although I can't say I've ever outright hated something from this line. The original powdery lavender vanilla thing with the olive flower twist that was the first Armani Code experience is just a generic "guy wearing cologne out" smell I walk past almost every night when I leave to go home from work and pass by several bars, pubs, and clubs on my way. Someone is always wearing this, and that itchy powdery sweet smell is always one I'm glad to be rid of once it comes and goes from my awareness. At the same time, I get how loved that smell is, playing second fiddle only to Acqua di Giò pour Homme by Giorgio Armani (1996) in the stables of the brand. What Armani Code Absolu (2019) seeks to do is modernize that DNA by sweetening it further and thickening it, providing that tonka-heavy vanillic syrupy sheen that Paco Rabanne 1 Million (2008) brought to this particular micro-genre of night out fragrances for men. I guess it works well if you like 1 Million and want it to smell more like a cross with the original Armani Code, but I really don't.

Apple, mandarin, and orange blossom enter the opening, stuffed to the gills with ethyl vanillin and ethyl maltol. You're in for one sweet ride from the very opening blast, with no bergamot or lemon from the original. The ionone powderiness seems gone too, although a bit of the original lavender DNA of the Code style is here, mixing with heaps of nutmeg and what feels like a caramelized brown sugar note. We're veering more gourmand than oriental with this one, having no discernible sandalwood or anything like that, although a thick slug of ambery sludge is here too, so maybe that's the prerequisite "oriental" facet? The base is got a touch of the guaiac wood from the original Code, plus the tonka, which is now cranked to 11 for reasons you probably don't need to guess. A much warmer, richer, and much, much, much sweeter rendition of Armani Code is this, and you're either here for it, or you're not. Wear time is going to be average at about 7-ish hours, and projection sits fairly close (thank heavens), while sillage goes the distance for the duration. My suggested use would be romantic settings, or clubbing. No surprise there either, huh? Winter feels best for this one, but the kind of guy wearing this doesn't usually pay heed to situational appropriateness anyway, so why do I bother?

Giorgio Armani Code Absolu is a right-proper "banger" of a fragrance, if you're the kind of guy who likes to pose in photos with the "Dreamworks Smirk" like you're an old No Fear bumper sticker plastered to the back of a rotting 90's Chevy Cavalier somewhere delivering pizzas, decked out in silk and rings on every finger, "stunting" on a Friday night. Compliments bruh, that's what it's all about, if you wanna win at the "frag game" or something, I don't know. Pass the chum bucket please, I'm going to wretch. In any case, I'm likely the worst person to review a fragrance like this because I'm so completely against the shallow self-aggrandizing ethos of a man who seeks out something like this, and I say that being a fan of 1 Million (which at least is self-aware with a sense of humor with its packaging and marketing). Here, we see a similar also-ran with the Armani Code DNA tacked on, but distinctly lacking said sense of humor or self-awareness, meaning that the tackiness is meant to be taken seriously, along with a phone number or business card you're likely soon to throw out when Dudley McStudley turns around to hit on someone else. If you're in it to win it, this gold bottle of expertly-crafted love sugar from Antoine Maisondieu may find a home in your collection, but if you never got into the Code craze in the first place, keep walking. Thumbs down.
18th July, 2021

Polo Red Eau De Parfum by Ralph Lauren

Polo Red Eau de Parfum (2020) does a decent job in rectifying some of the problems I felt the original Polo Red (2013) had, problems which I seemed to be mostly alone in picking up, since the line has had tremendous success over the years. This time around, Ralph Lauren has learned not to make their eau de parfum upgrades so close to the chest or else it renders them redundant, as that's the kind of thing only brands like Chanel or Guerlain seem to really pull off well. Of course, it's not like we haven't had a lot of wacky Polo Red flankers anyway, making this newest color in the Polo family sort of the clout-obsessed hypebeast whipping boy brunt of jokes by the old heads who still hoard bottles of Warner or Cosmair Polo (1977) they overpay for on ebay. If only they weren't absolutely right about the total lack of class and utter vapidity that the Polo Red line has allowed to seep into the brand (even if we ignore the disastrous Big Pony releases), we might be able to just "okay boomer" them back into their corners to watch reruns of M.A.S.H. while recounting the days of when "Polo was a real man's cologne" or something, but they have a valid point about the total sellout nature of the way Polo Red is seemingly designed. The new Eau de Parfum will not fix that image, so if you have some dignity about what you wear, you'll want to steer clear. What Polo Red Eau de Parfum does bring to the table for those whose fields from which they pluck their cares to give is barren, is a smoother and more "complete" fragrance that Polo Red probably should have been from the start.

The thing everyone will agree upon about Polo Red, whether artsy fartsy niche connoisseur or artisanal hipster up to their asses in animal butt essence, is how amazing the opening smells. Nobody in their right mind can smell the opening of cranberry, grapefruit, lemon, and lavandin then say "that stinks", but the amazing introduction of the original fragrance just ends up a mirage once the rest of it settles in. Olivier Gillotin put all of his R&D allotment in that opening likely to sell bottles as the opening is what sells the fragrance anymore, but here in the Eau de Parfum, it seems he went back (or someone else went back) and finished things up. A nice ginger and sage comes into the heart to join that lavandin, then a pasty musky labdanum follows. Gone is the harsh aromachecmical wood crap and "coffee" note that marred the finish of the original, and in its place is benzoin, oppononax, Iso e Super, elemi resin, cashmeran, guaiac wood, and a judicious amount of amberwood aromachemical to make a much smoother and more welcoming conclusion to that juicy fruit opening. The only small ding I can give this is the opening disappears much quicker than it does in the EdT, so really Polo Red Eau de Parfum feels like a bait and switch, since you're given an opening to a different fragrance then replace the rest. Wear time is going to 10 hours and the sillage is on the mild side of medium, so no beastmode here, and suggested use is in more sedate evening settings, as this is too sweet for work. The DNA here is still sufficiently similar enough that if you abhor the original, you still may not be brought around to the EdP.

My only real criticism is the sweetness really, as this smells leagues beyond the EdT in every way that matters, but also comes across a lot sweeter in the dry down as a trade-off for the much higher-quality overall progression from top to bottom. Sadly, being as generally sweet fragrance puts it out of consideration for even open-minded mature men, as experience shows that sweetness tends to be connected in the social consciousness to youth, so older gents looking to be distinguished from Billy Tryhard at the local club may not want to smell like this no matter how much more refined it is. Now, that isn't to say Polo Red Eau de Parfum is like Paco Rabanne 1 Million (2008), because that's a precedent-setting special kind of sugary tonka bomb (not without its charms) that has created a progeny of demon spawn all its own in the years since within the perfume market, but I'd be remiss to not mention Polo Red Eau de Parfum has a similar dessert-like palate to it. I personally am not convinced enough to make a purchase, and something still sort of rubs me in a way that makes me shy away from fully embracing the DNA of this particular Polo variety, but I won't say I hate it. If someone else was wearing this around me, I wouldn't wrinkle my nose at least, for what it's worth. It may just be impossible to give a proper base to such an improbably gorgeous opening, which may be why traditional eaux de cologne suffer when you attempt extending their wear time too, but at least there is some kind of respectable scent underneath that juicy top, which is an improvement of sorts. Neutral
18th July, 2021

Polo Blue Gold Blend by Ralph Lauren

Polo Blue Gold Blend (2019) could honestly just replace Polo Blue Eau de Parfum (2016) as the EdP option for lovers of the original Polo Blue by Ralph Lauren (2002), and that's because it actually does something to make itself feel like an addition to the line rather than just an alternative concentration with a small powertrain overhaul like the 2016 EdP. That said, people who disliked the original Polo Blue will once again be completely disinterested in this fragrance, so move along to the next review if this is you. However, if you loved the original Polo Blue, whereas before I told you it was safe to skip the 2016 EdP, here with Gold Blend you have something worthy of investigation. Primarily, Gold Blend is a further refinement of the Polo Blue DNA, inching closer and closer to being a more formal affair than you might have ever thought an aquatic could be, and offering a real contender against Acqua di Giò Profumo by Giorgio Armani (2015). I'm guessing Polo Blue Eau de Parfum was the original intended competition for the Armani flanker, but it just wasn't different (or quality) enough to really hold a candle to it, and Gold Blend seeks to rectify that. As a synthetic aquatic fragrance that is a further development of another relatively synthetic fragrance, total moss-huffing "perfume is dead, long live perfume" types will still find plenty to rattle their dentures about, so it still smells very modern using generational grouchery litmus paper.

The opening of Polo Blue Gold Blend is a bit more in line with traditional masculine barbershop tropes but fused with the Polo Blue DNA. You get the melon and cucumber calone and hedione wafting, mixed with lavender, ginger, pink pepper, and a slick lime note. The last part really links in mid-century lime aftershaves in a way I was not expecting, although this is no Avon Island Lime (1965) I assure you. The heart moves through the usual clary sage and geranium with slivers of basil, but now we have green apple and cardamom too. Polo Blue Gold Blend isn't what I'd call "niche quality" (hate that oxymoron term), but it does start to get close in complexity and build quality to something you'd expect to double the price. Base materials are where this lets you know that you're still dealing with Ralph Lauren though, as the usual ambroxan and norlimbanol players mixed with dihydromyrcenol and vetiveryl acetates comes into play. The norlimbanol is noticeably cranked up for that "incense" note which gives Acqua di Giò Profumo a run for its money, along with cashmeran returning from the original EdP. What surprises me the most is just how finessed this fragrance really is, with every little bit of sweatiness and youthful pizazz that still coated the otherwise mature-wearing original removed and buffed out. Wear time is also going to be 10 hours like with the 2016 EdP and sillage also remains about as good, with projection sitting close after about 2 hours.

In short, this is a smoother, slightly sweeter, spicier, rounder, and richer profile for Polo Blue that makes is something worth reaching for to someone in a white collar job or just completely over the fuzziness of modern freshies but also not wanting to smell like he's watching reruns of MTV TRL or listening to Matchbox 20 in 2019. You may not drive a Mitsubushi Eclipse or play Playstation 2 anymore, and so you'd rather not want to smell like you still do, but also don't want to smell like one of the interns that comes in drenched head to toe with Dior Sauvage (2015). Polo Blue Gold Blend is that fragrance, perfect for the so-called "geriatric millennials" hitting 40 and past their physical prime but in their career prime and putting monthly payments on that new Audi plus mortgaging that condo only a few blocks from the office. They somehow got educated just prior to the 2000's financial collapse, so they got their shoe in the door of the corporate world before the boomers pulled all the ladders up and lobbied lawmakers to make sure no other generation ever again had any chance at wealth and success. You don't want to be a showboating asshole by wearing Creed, but you've also moved beyond grabbing Kenneth Cole fragrances from the local Ross, so Polo Blue Gold Blend is a rarified mature take on a Y2K aquatic for that rarified millennial professional who avoided having the world take a dump on his future. Alternatively, maybe you just like uncannily smooth, rich aquatics? Thumbs up
18th July, 2021

Polo Blue Eau de Parfum by Ralph Lauren

Polo Blue Eau de Parfum (2016) is not different enough from the original Polo Blue (2002) for me to change my mind about it, but it bears discussion for those who went for this or who want to go for this over the early 2000's classic responsible for the "second wave" of aquatics. After the enduring popularity of the line, and the many lines spawned from iterative development of its casual/formal hybrid style like Polo Black (2005) and Polo Red (2013), it was high time for Polo Blue to receive an upgrade. I don't know if Carlos Benaim returned to the Polo line to tweak his formula for Polo Blue here, but whoever did this eau de parfum version played very close to the chest with the original EdT's design. For this reason, Polo Blue Eau de Parfum will not convince those who didn't like the original Polo Blue, nor will it seem an important purchase for those who've used the original Polo Blue for years, and really just slots itself into a position for those not familiar with the original and perhaps wanting something a bit smoother and more mute in tone with much the same characteristics. For me, this becomes a pass as a longtime owner of Polo Blue (which I wear little these days due to being in a more temperate climate without severe summer or winter seasons), but for someone else looking for a marginally more-refined Polo Blue experience to be formal wear in hotter climates, this could work better.

The opening of Polo Blue Eau de Parfum is the same melon and cucumber blast powered by aromachemicals like calone and hedione as the original, but there is noticeably more bergamot here and less of the ozonic elements, with stuff like dihydromyrcenol and dimetol muted in favor of letting more of the clary sage and geranium heart come singing through earlier. Polo Blue Eau de Parfum is more bottom-heavy in this manner, but all the key 2000's dynamics are still there, just in the background. From there, basil and vetiver appear and in place of the 2000's woody tones comes more-modern ambroxan, norlimbanol, and a surprising addition of cashmeran as the musk choice in place of the laundry white musk staple of galaxolide. This is still full of buzzy acetates and an iris ionone flicks about a bit too, but once everything settles, what emerges is remarkably similar to the original Polo Blue, just thicker and smoother to warrant its eau de parfum designation. I guess this proves there's more than one way to skin a cat, although no cats were harmed in the making of this fragrance, I promise. Wear time pushes ten hours and sillage is constant, but the projection gets quieter as expected much faster as an eau de parfum in place of an eau de toilette. You can wear Polo Blue Eau de Parfum in all the same business, formal, or casual situations as the eau de toilette, however.

Circling back, there isn't much here to scream about either for fans of, or detractors of, the original Polo Blue. What I can say sets this apart from the original eau de toilette is the slight retrofitting of aromachemicals from things more standard in the 2000's to things more common in the 2010's, so it's like putting a modern LS V8 motor in an an older Corvette and keeping everything else the same. You're going to get relatively the same performance because nothing else about the car has changed, but that subtle difference in the way the power is delivered to the wheels makes just new enough that people who have no interest in dealing with the original experience may opt for this retrofitted experience just because it's more familiar to them, if for no other reason. I could see the same thing being effectively done to a scent like Davidoff Cool Water (1988), by keeping everything but the base materials in 1988, then adding a 2018 base so the power is delivered in a more-modern way that suits those used to it, rather than trying to completely re-invent the fragrance from the top down as Davidoff has chosen to do with its very uneven flankers to the line. In either case, this isn't necessary stuff for the most of you, but what little difference there is between original and eau de parfum versions of Lauren's most popular Polo variant are here for you to see. Thumbs up
18th July, 2021

Ilio by Diptyque

Diptyque Ilio (2021) is a limited edition fragrance featuring art by Luke Edward Hall on the label, and in its original release format, was sold out almost instantly, making it for all intents and purposes a unicorn upon inception. The concept has something to do with the Mediterranean coastline and summer vibes which is all fine and well too, but the fact that the first eau de toilette release from this house in years was a limited edition release is troubling, as the brand has more or less focused on much higher-cost-per-ml eau de parfums. Part of me thinks they may eventually do away with their EdTs like Creed and permanently move upmarket with the EdPs as the only option, but here's hoping Diptyque isn't that cynical and money-grubbing. If you missed your chance at Ilio (like most of us did) fear not, for you haven't really missed anything at all, since the art and concept are the most interesting facets of this fragrance, which essentially exists as easy money from anxious collectors.

The opening of Ilio is a sparkling champagne aldehyde fizzy lifting drink of fruity and floral ionones buzzing around jasmine hedione with just the faintest trace of bergamot. The core moves into geranium and the scent really starts reminding me of Salvador Dali Le Roy Soleil Homme (1998) minus the fougère bits of that one, but things don't stay there long. Laundry musks and ambroxan along with transparent woody materials keep this light but fresh and ever-present on skin for up to eight hours, but Ilio will fail those looking for consistent projection past the first hour. Summery, fizzy, and ostensibly fresh, Ilio also leans a bit more traditionally feminine with the fruity floral structure, but also smells a bit on the cheap side with all the nondescript aromachemicals. The best part without a doubt is that prickly pear note in the opening, which I'd like to have had more of for longer. Best use is as a casual summer day wear kind of deal, assuming you use it at all since it's so collectable, and there are tons of better options.

Diptyque Ilio has all the class and composure of a limited summer flanker of Calvin Klein cK One (1994), and could have very well been released in one of those bottles. As a quick cash-grab collectable this succeeds, although the dubious future of traditional Diptyque eau de toilettes has been cast further into shadow with this long-awaited EdT release being such a novelty. I already see resellers trying to flip their purpose-bought surplus bottles on eBay, although initial prices were at or below retail because there are some who bought blind just to get one and didn't like it, so scalpers have to compete with them until those bottles are scooped up first, leaving only their high-ball options remaining. I like everything about Ilio concept-wise, and although I'm not super sold on the style of fragrance it is, I'd have just managed a thumbs up if it wasn't some FOMO frenzy-inducing carrot-dangle. If they end up re-releasing this (likely as an EdP so the cynic in me says), I'll re-evaluate my stance. Neutral
13th July, 2021

Fendi Uomo by Fendi

Fendi Uomo (1988) is one of those old Italian "men's cologne" fragrances, made for the out-and-out manly-man archetype expecting respect that tends to be the chosen mode of machismo culture pervading Latin and Mediterranean cultures, which includes Italy. Fragrances like these in modern history can trace all the way back to Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian things like Acqua di Parma Colonia (1916), which although intently unisex, formed a blueprint of sorts with citrus and woods focused for future men's market items. In particular with Italian men's fragrance, Acqua di Selva (1949), Pino Silvestri (1955), Capucci pour Homme (1967), and Gucci pour Homme (1976) continued in oneupmanship fashion, seeing a shift towards more of a French chypre form done with increasingly assertive masculinity; more woods replacing citrus-based florals like neroli, leathers and garrigue herbs creeping in, plus heavier applications of oakmoss. After a while, these Italian men's market chypres pushed up against the fougère structure with their sheer density in an attempt to have bigger muscles, a hairier chest, and more bacon and eggs between the legs than the competition, all while almost comically still trying to stuff themselves into a dapper pinstripe suit with their marketing. Fendi Uomo is perhaps a climax of sorts for this style, just as much a nod to grandpa's Acqua di Selva as it is dad's Gucci pour Homme, plus being a bit of its own mega-macho machine that perhaps less-than-discreetly borrows from some of the big French powerhouses of the decade. The ultimate goal here ended up being to create another monster leather chypre from an era when such monsters were one of several dominant species, but with a polite hat-tip. Unfortunately, this was 1988 and time was running out for this style being popular, although it didn't stop Fendi Uomo from having fans (and it still has fans who pay the discontinued premium to keep wearing it).

The basic premise of Fendi Uomo from my first glance is what Chanel Antaeus (1981) would smell like if it was processed through the perspective of your typical Hollywood "gabagool" mafioso stereotype, so in essence make it smoother yet somehow more dangerous. Antaeus in the most flagrantly French way imaginable announces its virility and doesn't even ask you if you want to deal with it or not, you just do until you can escape it. Fendi Uomo likes to slide up and play nice with its opening that reminds me more of a barbershop than an abattoir, then slowly rolls back the sleeves to reveal those brass knuckles ready to make you talk only after you've been disarmed with the smile and its too late. The thick Brooklyn accent probably should have tipped you off that you were in trouble, but you didn't want to stereotype anyone, and now you're paying for second-guessing yourself. The opening is bergamot, lavender, and lemon, smooth and a bit bright. The carnation and cyclamen that starts coming into the heart is the first clue you're going down the dark 80's animalic powerhouse path, then the cinnamon comes in and cumin, bringing us up to an isobutyl quinoline leather seemingly plucked right from Hermès Bel-Ami (1986), before the castoreum and patchouli join the heart's carnation to bring you those Antaeus vibes. Add patchouli, a ton of oakmoss, labdanum, cedar, and vetiver into the mix, and you've got an Italian stallion. A lot of things from the era smell like this in fits and starts, so if you're well-steeped in 80's masculines you may not need this, especially if you're an owner of stuff I've mentioned. Wear time is long here, at over 10 hours, and projection is "80's strong" so watch out, with sillage cutting to half that only halfway through. Best use is when you're out getting into trouble playing cards at the local deli, or at least that's what you're telling the wife.

Fendi is of course an Italian fashion design house based originally around furs and leathers until Karl Lagerfeld hopped on as creative director and made them into a more-modern fashion establishment like Armani, Versace, and the like. Because of this, the huge animalic leather streak in Fendi Uomo is not surprising. Hermès is mostly a leather maker too by heritage, which informed many of their men's market scents too. It's just with the very particular way Italian brands for the longest used to zero in on a traditionally prideful (sometimes overbearing) sense of masculinity in their men's fragrance efforts, that fragrances like Fendi Uomo could almost be predicted to smell like they do. Look at Gianfranco Ferré for Men (1986) before it, Versace L'Homme (1984) before that, Trussardi Uomo (1983) even before that, and you can see how a systematic amplification of these core olfactive values eventually came to a head in Fendi Uomo, which is almost the grandest of them all smell-wise. This is why I even dare compare it to something so shamelessly over-the-top alpha-male as Chanel Antaeus, but then we're back to French perfume being all-bets-are-off about whatever concept its exploring, something typically more-conservative Italian perfumes avoid in their attempt to be appropriate for the target audience. I'm not necessarily implying Italian fragrance houses were intentionally trying to out-macho each other, although the even more over-the-top Moschino pour Homme (1990) that seems to parody Fendi Uomo and Bel-Ami would accidentally add weight to that insinuation. Either way it was a fun time to be shopping men's fragrance, and these "men's cologne" macho frags are fun to take in, even if most like this Fendi are discontinued and too expensive so the casual wise-guy has to fuggetaboutit. Thumbs up
12th July, 2021
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Fahrenheit Parfum by Christian Dior

Dior Fahrenheit Le Parfum (2014) takes the DNA of the original controversial Dior Fahrenheit (1988) and effectively gives it a huge dose of civility and replaces its black leather jacket bad boy sex appeal with silk shirt and bedroom theatrics sex appeal instead. The results of this personality re-assignment create a fragrance that at its core is still the same one you know a love, but with the animal magnetism growl that either attracts or repells fight-or-flight style with something more deliberate in its flirtations, and something marginally more approachable as a result. Of the many flankers Dior has introduced then killed in quick succession over the years, Fahrenheit Le Parfum is among those likely most to be enjoyed by hardcore fans of the original Fahrenheit, while others such as Fahrenheit 0 Degree (2003), Fahrenheit 32 (2007), and Aqua Fahrenheit (2011) have been met with more mixed reception. It just seems outside of the sadly-axed Fahrenheit Absolute (2009), which was an oud reinterpration of the classic pillar, that there hasn't been much traction with the loyal fans for flankers of this range, and Le Parfum may be a step in the proper direction to keep the line relevant despite being into its third decade on the market by then. The basic gist of Le Parfum is to be a smoother, sweeter, more woodsy Fahrenheit. Clever noses that were around for the brief unpublished re-orchestration of the original Fahrenheit in the mid-2000's, which led to the scent being more vanilla-heavy and lacking a lot of the infamous "barrel note" the scent was known for, may recall some of that in Le Parfum.

It seems after reformulating Fahrenheit proper to be back in a form closer to the original release, house perfumer François Demachy took notes and kept in mind a proper place for this experimentation, and Fahrenheit Le Parfum is that place. Now this isn't to say that Le Parfum is just a higher-concentration version of those mid-2000's Fahrenheit batches, just that there is some lineage from them present. Ultimately, we see a sweeter opening infused with lavender and thickened with pink peppercorn introduce the famous "petrol violet" of Fahrenheit into the heart, which then slides up alongside a thicker vanilla to feel more like violet candy, something it shares in common with Mancera Aoud Violet (2014). The massive gourmand boozy benzoin and amber notes then lay on top of Fahrenheit's leather and vetiver accord, with smokiness from birch and patchouli completing it. The sweetness remains an important part so if you hate sweet you'll hate this. One can recognize most of the good old Fahrenheit we know and love is there, but it's had a few drinks, eaten some sweets, and kicks back with an unbuttoned shirt waiting to whisper sweet nothings at us like Bacchus. All of the nose-tweaking fight in Fahrenheit is gone from Le Parfum, but if you're looking for a more relaxed take that doesn't smell like a dilution such as some other flankers, Le Parfum nails it for you. Wear time is 12 hours and sillage is strong but close after the first hour. I see this being a winter fragrance much like the original too, but with more flexibility for romantic evenings or formal wear for those who don't want to "smell like pure gasoline" like the titular character said in the movie Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.

There is the little issue about price and availability though, as it seems like with all Fahrenheit flankers, Fahrenheit Le Parfum was pulled from the global market and possibly discontinued, or at very least is only being sold in France and neighboring countries much like Dior Homme Parfum (2014) released in the same year. Oh well, I guess Dior doesn't think much of it's overseas audience outside of shoving Dior Sauvage (2015) or endless watercolor florals down everyone's throats because it's what the young, dumb, beautiful, and flush with cash boobosie crave, since they just want "nice things" with a brag-worthy price tag without the baggage of substance or meaning. In any case, Fahrenheit Le Parfum does filter down into discounters and the gray market, but doesn't really come with a discount even then, costing north of $100 for 75ml/2.5 oz of parfum. I guess this isn't terrible, considering if it suffered from online fragrance community hype like Dior Homme Parfum did, it would easily be $200 to $300+ for the same quantity of fragrance from resellers ordering from France and scalping up to meet that hype. Crap like this really makes me hate the online fragrance community sometimes, with so many sweaty try-hards throwing cash at clout, but I digress. Whatever the price, Dior Fahrenheit Le Parfum has, or at least had, the makings of a good cold weather or cozy time flanker to the original if a bit more sweetness and roundness is okay by you, but it cannot replace the original; nothing really can. Whether or not you choose to take the plunge based on that analysis is up to you, but I think Demachy did justice to the original "accident" of Michael Almairac, Maurice Roger, and Jean-Louis Sieuzac. Thumbs up
11th July, 2021

Avalon by Murdock

Murdock London is a fairly new barbershop establishment in the UK, running right up against century plus-old names like Penhaligon's and Geo F Trumper, making take-home barber products and fragrances just like them. In some ways, Murdock London filled a void left by Penhaligon's when owners Puig took that brand far upmarket to focus on niche fragrances, gradually removing barbering services from its locations until it permanently closed the only remaining store still offering the brand's original barbering services (the Canary Wharf store). On the contrary, Murdock London eventually spread from its original Shoreditch location to several stores around London, before eventually offering its products abroad just like Penhaligon's and Geo F Trumper. The fact that this old-school traditional barbershop line and its products are not over a century old nor as of this writing hold or have held any royal warrants is not lost on the owner and founder Brendan Murdock, who is actually from North Ireland anyway. The whole point of the brand isn't to try being something it's not, but rather keep a loved tradition alive and give it a modern slickness that I'm guessing is made to be appealing for affluent men into postmodernism (aka "hipsters" as we like to call them here in the US). I'd say the tactic is working, and although I tend to scoff at the hubris and irony of hipster culture (you smelled one beard oil brand, you've smelled them all), I can actually appreciate what Murdock London is doing, especially here with its flagship scent, Avalon (2010). People in love with wet shaving smells and high-end brands related to that hobby are likely already well-acquainted with this brand or fragrance, so I may be speaking to the choir for some of you. For everyone else who is in the dark on this one, you may be interested if "proper gentleman's colognes" that have you "smelling like a man" are your thing.

Now Avalon by Murdock London is special, unlike the other serviceable and high-quality but slightly unremarkable fragrances I've reviewed from the line, because it is the scent found in the shave creams, pre-shave oils, after-shave balms, and beard shampoos the brand sells. Because of this, if you are a sucker for smell-matching grooming products to your daily fragrance, or layering them up for boosted performance, Avalon is what you want from this line. Additionally, Avalon is a quintessential British cologne for men, like the old stuff Geo F Trumper used to make (and still makes) in the primarily citrus and musks/woods/herbs style, thus being only a hop, skip, and a jump away from a true eau de cologne like 4711 Echt Kölnisch Wasser by Muelhens (1792). The difference being with Avalon, just like the Trumpers of old, is adding a bit more sustain to the effort so the scent lingers throughout the day on skin, lapel, handkerchief, or corsage. Funny nowadays, a lot of luxury brands like Bond No. 9, Tom Ford, Creed or even the ascended Penhaligon's make you pay big bucks for this effect, and while Murdock London isn't exactly cheap at $115 for 100ml, it's a bargain comparatively speaking. The opening is lemon, orange, neroli, petitgrain, and rosemary. Right away you're in classic cologne territory, but deep down into the heart there is a faint lavender and geranium treatment that adds the clever bit of oomph that pushes the scent forward, with a modern base of linalool, ambroxan, and evernyl holding to skin. In the end, you get an "endless" bloom of natural neroli and petitgrain over the slightest hint of dry English lavender and geranium, which is subtle and quite lovely. Wear time is eight hours and sillage past the opening is properly cologne-like and therefore light. Best use is after a shave or as a signature.

What separates Murdock London's Avalon from cheaper affairs that attempt the same "extended cologne" feel a la Mugler Cologne (2001), Just Free by Luciano Soprani (2004) or Ferrari Bright Neroli (2015) is the use of natural neroli (listed in the ingredients) alongside other oils, plus natural lavender and an avoidance of generic soapiness. Yeah, the geranium and the musk profile in the base are synthetic, but they serve to extend the citrus profile rather than take over for it, so their presence isn't unwelcome. Maybe this bit of natural use is what bumps the seemingly costly-for-a-cologne price of Murdock London Avalon over the $100 mark, in addition to it's "Made in England" nature a la Roja Dove, something that has always incurred a premium in foreign markets, just ask anyone who collected imports of Beatles albums back in the day. Still, knowing this is a finishing touch to a grooming routine using the other products you're much likely to replace far sooner (and which themselves cost far less), Avalon seems fairly priced under that context, but you'd have to be "all in" for Murdock London as a preferred grooming brand (or collect several brands like some wet shavers do), in order for that value to manifest. As a wearable fragrance under its own weight, Avalon feels no more or less valuable than others from the Murdock range, and you'd soon see it as just another overpriced take on an eau de cologne. But Avalon, as -the- smell of a proper Murdock London haircut and shave from one of their UK barbershops, gains that bit of extra magic when used in conjunction with their other products to earn its keep. Under that lens, Avalon is the smell of a 21st century revisionist traditional UK barbershop done right, and I'm here for it. Thumbs up
11th July, 2021

Gentleman Eau de Toilette Intense by Givenchy

Truth be told, I haven't been the biggest fan of the fragrances reusing the "Gentleman" designation from the original Givenchy Gentleman (1974), which the house has at least been gracious enough to keep around (a shocker considering most designers outside the biggest ones have sacked nearly all their legacy masculines by this point), but there have been a few here and there that passed muster. Gentleman Eau de Toilette Intense (2021) proves to be another such example of one that I like, although I must say it seems to have less DNA than the rest to the original Gentleman Givenchy (2017) which started this mess, which may be why I like it so much. Nathalie Lorson of Lalique Encre Noire (2006) fame pairs up with Olivier Cresp here, meaning there are good hands at work, even if the latter perfumer rarely seems to make something that has me weak in the knees. For the most part, this is an iris fragrance, a shocking plot twist considering iris seems to be a controversial love/hate note in the men's market, which is why fragrances with the note keep bouncing onto then off said market with a quickness unless you're Prada, who doubles down on the note.

Gentleman Eau de Toilette Intense seems to go head-to-head with Valentino Uomo Intense (2016), a fragrance that the usual YouTuber sycophants constantly cry about being discontinued even though it seems higher end department stores continue to carry it, possibly as an exclusive. Outside of that, maybe the discontinued Dior Homme Eau (2014) or or Halloween Man Shot (2016) can be seen as rivals, but that's about it. More notorious men's iris fragrances like the original Dior Homme (2005) discontinued for the North American market and relabeled "original": for Europe, or any of Prada's noteworthy soapy iris masculines, will likely take sway over this for enthusiasts. What you get here is cardamom and basil with a bergamot aldehyde puff that descends almost immediately into iris ionones, padded out with some of the patchouli from Gentleman Eau de Parfum Boisée (2020). Simple stuff so far, and it stays that way into the tonka and woody amber base, with some atlas cedar and that "pickle sandalwood" vibe which doesn't feel like genuine New Caledonian (not pickled enough), so it might be something else. Wear time is good at 10 hours, and as the name suggests, the sillage is intense, so be easy. Best use would be cool weather office and formal occasions for me personally.

Gentleman Eau de Toilette Intense feels like a fragrance formula maybe intended at one point for its own pillar launch, but then probably shelved due to cold feet and re-used as a flanker to Gentleman Givenchy, since it has so little if anything in common with the line. Maybe someone over at Givenchy decided "hey, we need an iris fragrance too, because every good house has at least one failed attempt at one", wanting to join the exclusive "we tried to be like Hedi Slimane" club that Valentino and Prada have seemingly joined because they see how much jabberjaw Dior gets for playing the hot potato game with Dior Homme flankers. I don't really know guys, but I do know that like with many of these soapy clean woody iris exercises, Gentleman Eau de Toilette Intense rides perfectly unisex, and should be sampled as a potential replacement for the once-hated-now-venerated DIor Homme Eau (funny that), which is worth more as an asset investment than a fragrance these days. Pretty good stuff Givenchy, just why did you need to call this a Gentleman flanker? Why not bring back Givenchy Insensé (1993) since everyone clamors for it? We may never know. What I do know, is this scent is pretty good, just likely not long for this world due to the hit-or-miss nature of iris masculines. Thumbs up.
07th July, 2021

Jaïpur Homme Eau de Toilette by Boucheron

Jaïpur Homme Eau de Toilette (1998) was released a year after the original Jaïpur Homme Eau de Parfum (1997) and doesn't change up much about the formula of its older, richer sibling, other than to dial back that richness in favor of more woods and powder. If you've worn Jaïpur Homme before in EdP form, this is all you really need to know, and this EdT will read as a little drier and fresher. Those not familiar with the Jaïpur Homme experience and looking for where to start might as well read my review on the EdP first before coming back to read this one, then picking their poison accordingly based on which one sounds best. Prices on either iteration aren't high enough to make it worth too much trouble either way. Jaïpur Homme in any form seeks to marry the spices of Jaïpur city in India with the classic European "oriental" sensiblities of early 20th century French perfume, but in a format suitable for conventional male tastes, making it a candidate for a men's take on Guerlain Shalimar (1925). In the late 80's through the 90's, interest in hybridizing these oriental tones with classic barbershop fougère tropes also made way for exercises like Jaïpur Homme.

Annick Menardo also perfumed this version and does subtle revisions to her work in the preceeding eau de parfum by bumping up the lime and adding a dry cardamom alongside more bergamot to give a bigger spicy pop in the beginning. Jaïpur Homme Eau de Toilette also does a little more with dry florals in the heart, merging rose and carnation, the latter which serves the same purpose as the clove in the EdP as they are both effectively represented by eugenol anyway. This EdT also features nutmeg but not nearly as much, and introduces a bit of orris powder that arguably brings it closer to something like Shalimar than its older brother. This powdery floral spicy envelope then nestles on a woody base that is dusted with tonka and oakmoss for that fougère feel, and given a more subtle vanilla dose than the EdP. Benzoin, cedar, and a bit of patchouli finish things off. Overall, I find this eau de toilette more relaxing and easier to wear, and can even get away with it on summer nights whereas the eau de parfum stays in the cabinet until at least mid-October for my climate. Wear time is 8 hours and projection is louder than the EdP at first, then more subtle. Best use for me is formal or cozy at home wear.

People who find Jaïpur Homme Eau de Parfum too suffocating with its heavy nutmeg and vanilla but otherwise appreciative of the smell may enjoy this eau de toilette more. If you absolutely hated the dusty spicy old-school feel of the original Jaïpur Homme Eau de Parfum, this lighter and drier take won't convince you. Guys who want to wear Shalimar but are afraid of being called out for wearing women's perfume can also give this a swing, as it rides close to the eau de cologne of that. Lastly, if you're a fan of things like Lalique pour Homme (1997) in either of its concentrations, or latter scents like Dior Homme (2005), Jaïpur Homme Eau de Toilette may also be a nice adjacent fragrance to add. In conclusion, Jaïpur Homme Eau de Toilette is a lighter, more dynamic, and easier-to-wear oriental fougère that keeps the France-meets-India themes but sacrifices some of the opulence and luxury of the eau de parfum in the exchange. For those of you who read this "luxury" as "heavy" (as I sometimes do), you can either pick this one up over the EdP or have both. Thumbs up.
07th July, 2021

Polo Cologne Intense Eau de Parfum by Ralph Lauren

Can you create an aromatic fougère without oakmoss? Designers have removed it from several prominent examples in subsequent reformulations that seem to go mostly praised with longtime wearers, so yes. Can you build an aromatic fougère around the all-too-common base note of ambroxan typically powering most modern "blue" fragrances in the 21st century? Evidently, Ralph Lauren has supplied that answer in Polo Cologne Intense (2021), which is also yes, but with a bit of trickery. There's no mistaking that some people will just never be happy unless they have things the way they were, like the people who will disdainfully compare this to the original Polo by Ralph Lauren (1977) and say that the brand is a shadow of its former self, that perfumery is dead, long live perfumery, all that myopic hogwash. We're going to ignore them though, because they can sit in their own little world where fragrance stopped being good after 1995, and all they do is troll eBay for restocking on their deep vintage bottles of this or that 70's and 80's powerhouse fragrance, because they're really not hurting anyone actually interested in this fragrance (or my review on it for that matter). There's a bit of undeniable soapiness with what's going on here, but Polo Cologne Intense is in no way an ethyl acetate/ethyl maltol fruity sweetness bomb like we've come to expect anymore from modern mainstream fragrances.

What you get here in Polo Cologne Intense by Ralph Lauren is a lean and green fragrance that stretches and plays with the definition of an aromatic fougère, as it doesn't have any lavender either, but smells quite green and properly Polo-like, while not trying to be a replacement for the inimitable original "Polo green". The opening comes out of the gate with grapefruit and orange love it or hate it, but tempers that with some spearmint and basil. I get bits of some other soapy green notes, acetates and a bit of some hedione woosh to let you know this is a modern fragrance, but things stay fairly square in the fougère department. Clary sage plays the role that lavender and geranium play here, a move similar to what Hermès did with H24 (2021). The clary sage isn't super-dosed like it is in H24, and pairs up instead with thyme and pleasant violet ionones, so think more like a Creed Green Irish Tweed (1985) vibe minus the aquatic elements. The ambroxan provides background fuzziness but the patchouli does the heavy lifting in the base, much like Amouage Bracken Man (2016).Vetiver rounds things out alongside some Iso E Super and performance is moderate in all ways that count. Polo Cologne Intense feels like a lighter and more casual hot weather-friendly take the original Polo deserved back in the 70's but never really got. You can wear this just about any time of year and it seems to be pretty tenacious on skin to boot, giving me about 10 hours. Mostly, I can see Polo Cologne Intense being an outdoor spring through early fall kind of fragrance, or worn in the office to break up the monotony of blue and citrus-focused fragrances that live there.

If you're going to do something like this with modern aromachemicals and change the paradigm for aromatic fougères away from lavender as a staple note, and furthermore away from oakmoss as a staple base accord whether real or simulated with evernyl, this right here is the way to do it. For as much as I love H24, it's not because it does a good job of being a newfangled fougère because it really honestly doesn't, but it has enough quirks and creativity behind it that it at least comes out smelling like a version of Dior Eau Sauvage (1966) for the modern man. Here with Polo Cologne Intense, we see something a bit different and more rooted in subversion of tradition going on, which makes me a bit sad that I can't credit the perfumer because they did a bang up job in the process. Now I'm not saying this is some end-all be-all experience, but what I am saying is Polo Cologne Intense is a modern green fragrance that checks the boxes for being aromatic and woody but also checks the boxes for being fresh in a contemporary way that woodier and muskier fougères just can't be, meaning there's something here for everyone who likes green aromatic masculines. Polo Cologne Intense isn't a catch-all kind of scent profile like the Polo Blue (2002) or Polo Red (2013) lines, and doesn't seem like it will replace the original, so I gather it's poised to compete in the same kind of buyer segment that is still interested in things like Terre d'Hermès (2006). Thumbs up
06th July, 2021

Oud Fleur by Tom Ford

Oud Fleur by Tom Ford (2013) has a rather optimistic note pyramid which contains many things I personally do not detect, but it isn't bad. What we have here is pretty much just another Western rose/oud take that features a structure beaten into the ground, although I'm reviewing this in 2021 rather than 2013, when this style may have struck me as fresher or more original. If anything, Oud Fleur is just more proof that too many Western perfumers flooded the market with oud rose fragrances that were all cut from the same cloth too quickly, gave them all enormous price tags, and expected everyone to buy them all up because of the "oud craze" in full swing at the time. It has therefore taken nearly a decade for even a hobbyist like myself to drill down and sample them all, and there are still likely many I am missing because samples of these are extremely hard to come by unless you want to spend a fortune in decants from splitters. Personally, to smell what has been pretty much the same fragrance in a different bottle from a different brand, often with a different perfumer too, the answer to that question is a hard no. In spite of all this, Oud Fleur is likeable, although I think for this style and price, one can do better, and I'll give my recommendations to that effect a little later on.

The opening of Oud Fleur has a bit of that pissy oud funk the Western synthetic oud materials from Firmenich and Givaudan like to implement, aka "civet oud" if you really want to get down to it. The sadly-discontinued Dior Leather Oud (2010) used it best, and I missed the boat on that one, so anywhere else it appears with few exceptions just makes me upset that it isn't done as well, and with Oud Fleur, it fades into saffron after some time. Cardamom, damask rose, pimento, davana, and dates seem to come in next, offering a bit of dried fruity spiciness with the rose oud blend, before things peter out into pedestrian patchouli and benzoin with the Tom Ford "raspberry leather" accord the house clearly overuses. The brand seems to think castoreum is in this perfume, but I get none unless it is so micro-dosed as to not matter. Caron Yatagan (1974) or Bogart One Man Show (1980) this is not. By the end of it, we get what is basically fruity synthetic oud/rose/patchouli soup that has been done way better and way more boldly than Yann Vasnier did it here, and cheaper too. Performance is average, and best use is pretty much when you want because this is still a rose oud out of context for most situations. Projection will be very loud at first, as Tom Ford private blends tend to be front-loaded to sell at the counter, but afterwards things begin falling apart into a single one-two base accord.

Once upon a time I would have recommended Jovan Intense Oud (2012) as a budget alternative to expensive rose ouds like this, but it is sadly discontinued and no longer the bargain it was. You can have 125ml of Parfums de Marly Akaster (2015), which smells superior to this, for less money if you're looking for a very "classic" example of the Western rose oud style. Outside of that, houses like Montale and Mancera are rife with these kinds of things, and are arguably the origin of the species anyway, ever since Montale Black Aoud (2007) took the world by storm. Outside of those options, there are a handful of other designer rose ouds, but since they tended to be introduced, failed, then discontinued, some of them may actually not be worth their price anymore either, although you could get something like this from Gucci, Versace, Hugo Boss, Lauder (parent of Tom Ford), and about a dozen others I can't remember all for less than this sells for today. I guess it isn't survival of the fittest with Western rose ouds, but survival of the most-hyped, and Tom Ford has both the cult of personality and marketing cash to get people excited and keep them excited, which is turn keeps this stuff in production. A fair-smelling but not fair-priced rose oud. Neutral.
06th July, 2021

Rose Jam by Gorilla Perfume

Rose Jam by Gorilla Perfume [Lush] (2011) will be a true test of your love for roses, and there's no getting around it. This is not "rose" created with geraniol and buttressed aromachemicals, spices, and fruity notes to make a platonic faint memory of rose removed from the context of the flower itself growing from a bush or cut from a stem. What you get here is still not 100% vivid sniff-the-plant or pressed-between-book-pages sphotorealistic rose or rose water from a vase evaporated either, because that has been done before too many times. Instead, you get rose jam, literally and figuratively, as a fragrance. Rose Jam has come and gone, then come again, plus been stuffed into shower gels, soaps, and a host of things when not available as a perfume.

Rose Jam opens with a powerful punch to the face of the signature note, smelling like crushed rose petals and sugar mixed with a bit of lemon and pectin, cooked down until it fills a room. There is a bit of sour-sweetness here, and you get green metallic facets of the paired geranium too. There is a very oily indolic texture to this as well, not quite lymphatic like a true animalic musk note, but it can be a bit uneasy, and I think it is produced by the argan oil used in this and the adjoining argan rose soap that used to exist for this scent. This uneasy grease is probably the only part I don't like, but it provides the base anchor for the rose to appear naked and jammy without patchouli, oakmoss, oud, or something else, so I get it. Performance is absolutely insane, so I'll leave it at that. Best use is whenever you want to wake the dead with a jar of rose jam, and that's it.

If you want a rose jam accord that kicks you in the face with the fury of an old Hong Kong action flick, Rose Jam by Gorilla Perfume is what you want. The oiliness that I mentioned isn't a deal breaker for me, but it nearly is, so I recommend sampling if it is available. Also, this comes in a body spray housed it what looks like a Windex trigger bottle but let me tell you, that stuff is on par with an eau de toilette concentrée or eau de parfum, and comes screaming out of that trigger. One time a roomate used what I assume was a few pumps of that trigger and the scent was so strong it came through the walls, under my door, and literally woke me up from sleep (to my dismay). The pure parfume therefore, is apocalyptic in strength and should be used with severe caution as well. An almighty jam of a rose! Thumbs up
05th July, 2021

Invictus Onyx by Paco Rabanne

Paco Rabanne Invictus Onyx (2020) is literally just the original Paco Rabanne Invictus (2013) in fancier packaging. When I originally reviewed the first of this line, I was sort of more interested in getting my mind into the headspace of all the controversy within the online fragrance community surrounding Invictus than properly reviewing the fragrance itself, which is perhaps a character flaw of mine to let my sardonic side take pot shots at the herd mentality that usually spawns from peer pressure 'round these parts. Invictus deserves better, and since we basically have a new version of the same fragrance, you'll get a new version of the same review free from all that. I still think Invictus is "just fine", and have come to enjoy it more at times than I'd care to admit, but after living with it for some time, can sort of see why its DNA is absolutely everywhere and everyone is trying to cash in on their take of it, even if Invictus isn't actually Paco Rabanne's top selling men's fragrance. The distinction for the honor of top seller actually goes to Paco Rabanne 1 Million (2008). The phenomenon that is Invictus actually starts properly with Gucci Guilty pour Homme (2011), which was the first commercial men's fragrance to have any resemblance to this DNA. Maison Francis Kurkdjian Amyris Homme (2012) came next, putting a luxury refinement on the sweet orange blossom tonka and ambroxan vibe in the Gucci, then the dream team who worked on Invictus took that refinement and re-commercialized it with heavier sweeteners, more ambroxan, and added a virile kick to justify the macho sport cup bottle. Paco Rabanne certainly knows how to make a ridiculous bottle, that's for sure

Inside the bottle of Invictus Onyx you'll find nothing more than the most-recent formulation of the original Invictus juice, so the opening is still aldehydes and grapefruit, orange, and ozonic notes that sweeten up with ethyl maltol and get aquatic with a soup of calone-1951 and dihydromyrcenol. The middle is still a huge hedione and bay mix that has this fruity shower gel thing going on too, and the base is a very mineralic musky representation of ambergris powered by ambroxan and then adulterated with other things to make it feel like real ambergris. Patchouli and the smokiness of guaiac wood exist here too, and the whole thing comes across fruity, fresh, mineralic, musky, and a bit sweaty. Olivier Polge teamed up with Anne Flipo and Dominique Ropion, the latter two who have played with some form of these accords since Yves Saint Laurent L'Homme (2006), and who would play with them again in Yves Saint Laurent L'Homme Ultime (2016), then Ropion alone in Y by Yves Saint Laurent (2017) and Y Eau de Parfum (2018). Veronique Nyberg is the odd one out here, but she had a part to play too no doubt. Invictus smells like every young man wearing "cologne" who has ever crossed your path in the 2010's, and perhaps that's the point. The dynamic of clean and musky effectively made it Yves Saint Laurent Kouros (1981) for late Millennial and early Gen Z men, and can be a signature for year-round use in all situations with stellar performance. I still think if you're going to wear something like this, you should ignore all the hate and leave the clones alone, as nothing does what this does better than it does, regardless whether or not someone likes the thing it does. Invictus Onyx is really just collectable packaging at this point, so you don't need this bottle if you just intend to wear Invictus as a regular dumb-reach scent.

However, there will be some who maintain that this is a distinct flanker with subtle, but noticeable differences, as is the solipsistic madness of isolated internet-trained fragrance "gurus" in the community. With Valentino, Jimmy Choo, John Varvatos, YSL, Carolina Herrera, and countless others doing their own take on this style, it's easy to get burned out, furthered by the existence of actual clones to boot. What makes Invictus so likeable and likely profitable is it makes that perfect marriage of "blue fragrance" freshness, the fruity bubblegum sweetness carried over from some youth-oriented 2000's fragrances, and then stuffed in that locker room virility, all while banking on star players like grapefruit, ambroxan, hedione, tonka, and other evergreen notes in mainstream masculine perfumery. Invictus was just the perfect storm of artistic iterative refinement, consumer data-powered research and development, plus the modern fragrance-wearing man's obsession with performance all in one scent that works for guys 14 to 44. Most designer copycats at least seem to try imitating Invictus Aqua (2016/2018) rather than bog-standard Invictus, as the Aqua flanker is a bit softer on the mineralic musk and thus more palatable to a wider audience than the original. In summary, this stuff has become one of nü-powerhouses of the 2010's alongside Dior Sauvage (2015), and this fancy packaging redux is just further proof of its importance to the mainstream men's perfume market. Assuming you're okay with its extreme commercial glossiness, ubiquity, and gauche packaging, Invictus Onyx is still a pretty easy, satisfying wear, just not to a black tie event, job interview, or first date, pretty please. Thumbs up.
05th July, 2021

Straight to Heaven, Splash of Lemon by By Kilian

This limited edition called Straight to Heaven, Splash of Lemon by Kilian (2015) doesn't totally suck like the original Straight to Heaven, White Cristal by Kilian (2007), but don't look for it, as it's already long gone and even more stupid expensive in the aftermarket. You'll effectively be paying used beater car money or new UHDTV money for a fragrance that fixes some of the problems that the original iteration had, but then leaves some there, but remixing the sound so it can at least be tolerated to the casual ear. Ironically, this leans even more into its similarities to Terre d'Hermès (2006) than the original "StH" does, thanks to the removal of the creamy sweet bits and rum bits in place of what feels like vodka and obviously lemon to my nose. The hamster cage cedar is replaced with more of the sandalwood the original was supposed to have but really didn't, so you get hints of that pickly vibe in the late stages like our Harvard drop out from my StH review has mingled his Hermès with a bit of Le Labo, but ah well. Overall, I can wear this, but am I going to? Absolutely not, and that's because I'm not tracking this down and paying blood money for it when I still have plenty of Terre d'Hermès and adjacent fragrances like JB by Jack Black (2010) which do the same thing. Sophie Matisse did the art for this bottle, which looks very unlike your normal By Kilian, and Sidonie Lancesseur returned to perfume.

The opening is going to be that "slice of lemon" mixing with a distilled white spirit note that to me feels like vodka. Fruity ionones are missing this time, so no rotted jam, but there is a bit of alpha ionone here alongside an amped-up patchoulol note that has the same clear terpene vibe as Terre d'Hermès patchouli, without the thick chocolately feel that a full patchouli oil presentation like in Givenchy Gentleman (1974) might possess. By this point, Straight to Heaven with the lemon wedge smells even closer to Terre d'Hermès than anything in its original MSRP should, but it also smells way better than the original. Cedar dosed correctly, with sandalwood, rosewood, and no vanilla to get in the way make for a pleasantly masculine affair over that patchouli, Iso E Super, and ambroxan vavoom of the base. Bits of vetiver and white musk seal the deal but performance is still just about meh for me. You can wear this many places I wouldn't dare show up in the original StH, but you'll still smell slightly like you spilled booze on yourself, and maybe a bit of turpentine too. Frat boy bourgeois to laid-off painter, here we come! Definitely worth the cash now, right? Don't answer that, trick question. Maybe this could be an office scent, but the vodka note and stiffness of the peppery woody patchouli bits still scare me off for that context. Best use is spring, summer, and fall to me, as this has no legs in the cold despite containing vodka, haha.

Straight to Heaven, Splash of Lemon, is really just leaner and fresher take on what was otherwise a sloppy gourmand, moving it away from the gourmand category into something that is more or less an aromatic chypre of sorts with a boozy touch up front. As a designer selling for about $100, I could see this being a left-of-center contender in the arena Hermès competes with good old Tee-Dee-Aitch, but it runs up against other niche contenders that smell better and cost less, like L'Artisan Parfumeur Timbuktu (2004), which started this whole genre. Once the the price of your typical By Kilian fragrance kicks in, the limited factor making it even more expensive since you're not buying stock from retailers anymore, and the fact so many better options exist. what you end up with here is another fancy collectors piece you will be too anxious to use if you do happen to have it. Crazy rich fragrance collectors that look down their nose at "common" perfume brands like I don't know, designers and more entry-level niche, are going to put this on a pedestal as a better more-refined alternative to what I mentioned above, if they even make that connection to begin with. As I said in my previous review for the original, I'll lose cool points with them knocking around this series, but they can sod off anyway since my plebeian opinions are beneath them anyway. Not bad, but you can do much better. Neutral
05th July, 2021

Straight to Heaven, white cristal by By Kilian

Unfortunately, I'm going to lose cool points with the snobby hob-knobs and their "get what you pay for" mentality with fragrances priced to vet the hoi polloi from the beautiful people, because for the money wanted to attain a bottle of Straight to Heaven, White Cristal By Kilian (2007), this sure sucks. Also, I'm not going to type out the full title of this perfume comma and all, so consider this the last time I'm writing "Straight to Heaven, White Cristal" in my review. Going forward, I'm just going to use shorthand like "StH" because it makes my life easier, unlike having to smell this stuff. So the point of this stuff is to smell like booze, because Kilian makes booze; no surprise for me given the history of Kilian Hennessy, and sometimes this theme works for them just as it does for Frapin, but also like Frapin, sometimes it really just doesn't. The latter is the case with StH, although it has produced a litany of flanking special editions, so something tells me I am in the minority with this one. Again, too bad. If rich people care enough that I'm bashing their favorite overpriced perfumes that smell like rubbing alcohol, spoiled jam, and hamster cages, they can send me a cease and desist if they can find grounds.

I've pretty much summed up what to expect before even getting to the breakdown of StH, but for sake of being thorough, here goes my experience in excruciating detail: This opens like someone spilled cheap white rum into a bottle of Terre d'Hermès (2006), then let the alcohol dry up some so the patchouli sticks out more. I get some fruity ionone configurations and lots of blooming hedione with some vanilla for sweetness, but it doesn't hide the hamster cage cedar that eventually powers through the patchouli and dried plastic-bottle rum. Some ambroxan then emerges with a peppery sort of woodiness, until another familiar ingredient from Terre d'Hermès shows up to boost the woodiness and revive some of the medicinal nature of the dried spirits, rounded by the rum and made marine sort of with the ambroxan, which feels roughed up in the way it is in Paco Rabanne Invictus (2013) to feel a tad animalic. I'm not sure who likes this, but it just smells like an alcoholic trust fund kid who dropped out of dad's Ivy league college and douses himself in the aforementioned Hermès to hide the stench when he shows up for required family high-society functions. Unbelievable that anyone pays for this stuff at all. Just wear Terre d'Hermès and preserve some dignity. Performance is okay and projection is also just okay, although the smell is definitely not okay.

The bottom line here is an heir to a house that makes um... let me check my notes... cognac, has no real business trying to make a rum-based fragrrance unless he knows something about that, and he clearly doesn't. Sidonie Lancesseur has done a few By Kilian fragrances, along with some cheapies for Cofinluxe, some Amouage stuff, and even went on to do the well-thought L'Humaniste by Frapin (2009), a brand I mentioned earlier on in this review. Now I'm not saying there aren't some ridiculously-priced fragrances I'd love to own, as a few Roja Doves, Royal Crowns, and Parfums Dusita scents all sit on my "maybe if I win the lottery if I ever played it" bucket list I never intend to actually be able to scratch off, but something like this just makes me shake my head like who smells something so awful and thinks "yep, that's haute parfum right there, worth every penny"? Clearly, coming "from good stock" and having lots of wealth either earned or handed down via birth raffle doesn't guarantee good taste in perfume, just having enough funny fiat paper to toss at literally anything that tickles your fancy, no matter how banal it really is to everyone else not fooled by the tugs at the old ego-strings that most marketing and presentations for these types of perfumes have. Still, if you want to smell like an alcoholic frat boy with GQ tastes, and are willing to cough up $300+ for 50ml of it, I won't stop you. Thumbs down
05th July, 2021

Pancaldi by Hanorah

First thing's first, this is not worth the amount of money wanted for it, and with that out of the way, I can get down to business. Pancaldi by Hanorah (1988) was made by Hanorah via Diana di Silva for the Italian men's sartorial brand Pancaldi Co., later to be known as Pancaldi and B after it was bought out. Originally this was launched in 1988 then received a concentration upgrade to Eau de Toilette Concentrée in 1989, which did a few things to tweak the smell just a tad. This review is concerned with that later, more concentrated version, but the fragrance pyramids published for both are the same. The rough gist of Pancaldi is to be a clean, aromatic fougère, a bridge of sorts between the earthy mossy green stuff of the 70's, and the soapier more citrus-forward eventually psuedo-aquatic stuff of the 80's into the 90's. For this reason, if you've smelled stuff ranging from Azzaro pour Homme (1978), Dunhill Blend 30 (1978), Pascal Morabito Or Black (1982), and Drakkar Noir by Guy Laroche (1982), to Houbigant Duc de Vervins (1985), Givenchy Xeryus (1986), Lomani pour Homme (1987) Alain Delon Plus (1987), and Gucci Nobile (1988), you've already smelled most of what's in Pancaldi and you probably don't need this. That said, it's extremely well-done because duh, it was made in the 80's and not cost-minimized and market-maximized for the biggest cynical corporate demographic-fueled bang-for-buck like you typical Paco Rabanne Invictus (2013) clone of a clone of a clone is today. Instead, you're just getting a 4th generation cassette dub of Drakkar Noir remixed with a bit of 70's brown-sound that has the loudness cranked to 11 if you get the Concentrée version.

The opening of Pancaldi Concentrée is a barrage of stiff juniper, wormwood, basil, bergamot, lemon and soapy lavender with touches of then-fashionable dimetol and dihydromyrcenol. The heart goes more for the lavender, clary sage, and geranium with bits of carnation, pimento berry, and smoke from vetiver and clove. Cinnamon and pine give the woodsy spicy 70's walnut paneling treatment while the soapy clean 80's fougère goodness that makes this fragrance one of the "Drakkar Noir Pod People" intermixes. The juniper shows back up later in the wear and gives us a bit of a link back to something like Creed Baie de Genièvre (1982), and in some ways I get hints of Puig Quorum (1982) in here too, especially once the base shows up. The pine and leather bits bring me to the Nobile comparison while the tonka and oakmoss mixed with castoreum and benzoin bring me the Quorumand Or Black bits, while the Drakkar, Lomani, Alain Delon, and everything else just ride on top like an orgy of 80's fougère pastiche. If I make that sound exciting, trust me when I say it is not, as all this does to me is smell like how it would sound to play 12 different hits from the 80's that I like all at the same time, making for a really big jumble of things that actually sort of gives me a headache. Once it all calms down, the dry-down most closely resembles a cross between the AD Plus and a later throwback fougère from Parfums de Coeur called King (2008), which tried to revive this style on the cheap doing a similar all-things-80's mashup but forgot about ingredient quality. Best use is as a year-round signature I guess, and performance is decent for the normal, great for the concentrated one. The Mafioso-looking dude on the original boxes just about summarizes the attitude of this one too.

I like what's in this goulash of 80's casual scent craft, it just comes across as a jumble you need a bit of patience to sit through until the hook shows up in the finish, like listening to the mid-section of In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida waiting for the chorus to return and nail the experience. The regular Pancaldi is stated to be a bit mintier and cleaner, with less of all this infused aromatic density, and I dare say that I might like that one more. Thankfully, it seems like Pancaldi under it's new name of Pancaldi and B re-issued that one in new packaging along with a women's version, although nobody seems to know or care about it since it's under a private label now and only found through Pancaldi and B themselves outside eBay. Even if you do spring for that modern issue of the standard old 1988 Pancaldi, you're still getting a very tried-and-probably-tired 80's fougère experience, and this long-retired Concentrée seemingly is just a much rarer, stronger, and overpriced rendition of the experience. In as much as it matters to the collector of all things masculine from the 1980's, there are better and more unique unicorns to hunt, even among other Diana di Silva products like Gianfranco Ferré for Man (1986). If you're really into these 80's kitchen sink fougères that were all trying to out-do each other and their source inspiration Drakkar Noir, you could at least hunt down a bottle of Alain Delon Plus or a vintage example of Givenchy Xeryus instead, as both of them are far more balanced and have a bit more to say about themselves than an overdose of juniper and a jumble of base notes. If this was a cheap thrill, I might have given it a thumbs up. Neutral
05th July, 2021

MCM 24 Evening by MCM

Mode Creation Munich is a little-known German handbag designer, originally founded by Michael Cromer. He soon joined with other accessories like shoes and jackets, but early on had limited ranges of fragrance that accompanies the bags in series, with almost niche-like styles or concepts. All scent creations up until 2017 had been made by perfumer Arturetto Landi, while most of the perfumes made by the house were given short production runs to coincide with their limited nature, distinguished by the bottle designs that ran in series. MCM would issue two or three things in a single design then switch to a new design for the next series, with the more recent collections having standards of packaging that approach less of a mainstream designer aesthetic like collections of the past, and more of a luxury market feel. MCM 24 Evening (1993) is one half of a pair that begins with MCM 24 Morning (1993), a masculine fragrance duo meant for the MCM man to wear day and night alternating. Olfactive themes between both versions of 24 are united, but execution differs by intended context. MCM 24 Morning was more or less a fresh fougère similar in design to Paco Rabanne XS pour Homme (1993), Mackie for Men by Bob Mackie (1992), or the origin of the species Eternity for Men by Calvin Klein (1989). MCM 24 Evening leans on the slightly-older musky floral fougère trope established at the beginning of the previous decade by scents like Kouros by Yves Saint Laurent (1981), so by 1993 it would seem very out of fashion, making it a curious choice for evening wear.

Considering MCM Success (1986) was an unrepentant powerhouse and MCM Black Silver (1988) an early clubber in the vein of now-unicorn Lagerfeld Photo (1990) or the later Nikos Sculpture Homme (1995), the men's line didn't really need any more musky sweaty bombs of macho virility, which is what made MCM 24 Morning a welcome addition at the time. With MCM 24 Evening, we get what feels like to me a formula maybe developed in the 80's for MCM but left unused and now bottled as the evening partner for MCM 24 Morning to complete the pairing, rather than spending R&D bucks on something more appropriate for the decade. We were a few years away from proper gourmands slotting into the role of powerhousees, or even more-common men's market exploration of oriental fusions, so maybe this was Michael Cromer and Arturetto Landi drawing a blank. Either way, the opening is full of sweet plum and citruses that blend with a bit of funky cumin, setting up for the civet show later on. Cumin itself is known to feel rather animalic, so having it alongside civet is almost Roudnitska-like in daring. Sadly, this daring fades in the beginning as a dandy floral melange enters the heart, giving us carnation, rose, jasmine, lavender, and geranium alongside cinnamon to mull it all into "brown". The base is tonka and oakmoss, all properly fougère-like with the animalic civet adding some manly nether-region warmth. Leather, vetiver, and pepper round things out and overall this is pleasantly piquant if more 80's musty than 90's sexy, with moderate projection despite the heady design of the fragrance itself.

Obviously you don't need me to tell you that this is intended for evening use, but honestly something musky and floral like this could also see use in cold weather outside or as a fix for more of a Middle-Eastern flair in your fragrance. Altogether MCM 24 Evening doesn't achieve what it seeks to, at least not at the time it was released, as I doubt many young and trendy men looking to buy into the MCM brand at the cresting of its popularity wanted to smell like their dad's colognes when going out to the nightclub. However, these kind of unloved-in-their-prime things are absolute love affairs now for the vintage-obsessed over-50 keyboard warriors that stink up online forums and social media groups with their "what suits me should also apply to thee" view of what is and isn't proper men's fragrance. You know, the usual "perfumery is dead, long live perfume" types that Etat Libre d'Orange directly makes fun of with their entire existence. If you're someone looking to sample genuine animal gland-powered 80's eau de Reaganomics, you wouldn't be looking to a 90's fragrance for that in the first place, and can do it without the sting of eBay fluctuations or dubious listings on backwater sites like eCrater just by sticking with things like Zino Davidoff (1986) or Lapidus pour Homme (1987). If money is no object or you enjoy going down the rabbithole, MCM 24 Evening is certainly a pleasant example of floral musky manliness, just less unique than something this obscure may imply, and released a few years past the style's cultural shelf-life in the mainstream. Thumbs up
05th July, 2021

Oud Silk Mood by Maison Francis Kurkdjian

Maison Francis Kurkdjian Oud Silk Mood (2013) is the second released, and my favorite, of the "oud moods" series of fragrances, plus is one of three available in a slightly more-tame eau de parfum. All entries in this series would get extrait versions, and starting with Oud Velvet Mood (2013) most would be extrait only, although Oud Satin Mood (2015) would be the third and so far last of the "oud moods" delivered in an EdP version. Oud Silk Mood is as it sounds; we get a "silky" oud experience that as the brand describes brings the "orient" and the "occident" together thematically, displaying rose chypre formatting with oud as the anchoring base material rather than oakmoss and labdanum. Also as noted, Maison Francis Kurkdjian is using little to no noticeable oud in these fragrances besides maybe what trace amount may be required to legally call it an oud in some markets, so expect this to be the usual medicinal synthetic oud experience like in all the others. At least here, MFK tries to add more of an animalic quality to the oud, which translates as a sort of sour urinous leathery quality that Dior, Bogart, Le Labo, and a handful of others have achieved using the synthetic oud compound from Firmenich. If this isn't using that exact compound, it's pretty close, and I don't think the kind of person buying this is ordering samples of perfume molecules to blind test anyway.

Beyond this "pissy synth oud" which could very much almost be mistaken for civet at a passing glance, Oud Silk Mood is really all about its rose, which blends down with bergamot and chamomile in a novel well, supported by several aromachemicals to give it lift and transparency. The opening is going to be that bergamot and rose all chypre-like, pushed into place by that lumbering animalic synth-skank, that soon settles into more of a cypriol sour aromatic woodiness role. Hedione and salicylates lift and polish the rose, while a light deft touch of woody-ambers taking the guise of guaiac wood enter the heart alongside a touch of vanilla. The sweet chamomile comes next, being the X-factor which sets this apart from similar scents coming out of Tiziana Terenzi, By Kilian or Montale/Mancera. Appropriately "silky" at this point, the rose-dominated Oud Silk Moood only gently sways that slightly urinous and dry woody "oud" note back and forth, with sour leathery traces that also remind me of how isobutyl quinoline is used in leather chypres, even if ultimately Iso E Super is likely the culprit for the final woodiness of listed "papyrus". This is nice, lasts a long time, and projects well in most weather conditions, and really is more of a rose scent than an oud one, just like many Montale "aoud" scents tend to be. Most rose ouds can smell tiresome but this one pleasantly avoids feeling like it copied someone's homework.

The person who likes Oud Silk Mood is someone who wants the expense of a niche fragrance, the slightest touch of exoticism afforded from the subject of oud, but wants a fragrance that is still unerringly French and polite, sophisticated, plus mostly safe to use in most social spaces. In other words, more "occidental" than "oriental" but liking to pretend it's the other way around. I'm okay with this so long as it is done well and enjoyable, which it is here. MFK Oud Silk Mood doesn't smell cheap, doesn't particularly feel like a rip-off; a little bit of this stuff lasts forever and goes a long way so even at a steep $300 for 70ml, one bottle may be a lifetime supply, and you won't smell like you're wearing another ramshackle designer oud take a la poorly cassette-dubbed version of something Tom Fords did a decade beforehand but by another house. The original Maison Francis Kurkdjian Oud (2012) flirted with that level of cynicism, but the line as a whole seems to avoid that particular cliche. Still, if you're looking for a barnyard oud or something more chocolatey and dense like an Artisanal maker can provide at this price point, Oud Silk Mood won't be for you. On the other hand, if you're after a rose oud combo from a Western brand that doesn't feel like "another rose oud from a Western brand", this may have you covered if the price is right; we're still talking a lot of money for just 70ml after all. Thumbs up
04th July, 2021

Y Le Parfum by Yves Saint Laurent

When I smelled Y Le Parfum by Yves Saint Laurent (2021), I fully got what I expected. Everyone in the upper-mid designer space dances to the beat of Chanel's drum, but can't quite master the moves in much the same way because unlike Chanel, they're beholden to corporate overlords that maximize explosive short-term profit growth over long-term sustainability, meaning they can't afford to take the risks or set the trends like Chanel does, but rather will follow marketing data and demographic research to a fault, pumping this data into AI machines that then spit out fragrances (or adjustments to fragrances that then become flankers) in order to achieve what the math says will be the widest potential market adoption. We've seen LVMH go down this path with sweeter and smoother flankers of Dior Sauvage (2015) dressed as higher concentrations, and now L'Oréal does it too with the Y by Yves Saint Laurent (2017) line. The monkey-see monkey-do behavior of these houses really just further alienate them from their once-great reputations, but alas.

Y Le Parfum immediately reads like Dior Sauvage Parfum (2019), with a massive slug of sugared tonka bean underpinning everything in the accord. Much of the "blue" accord in the opening, the "showergel" vibe created by the mixture of orange, lemon, juniper, ginger, and some galaxolide that depending on flanker, will then factor in apple, orange blossom, pink pepper, and additional ethyl maltol for sweetness, is collectively subdued in this version as expected. Y le Parfum instead just touches on the signature Paco Rabanne Invictus (2013) by-proxy opening then plunges right into the tonka, which is dressed up in a stew of patchouli, woody ambers posing as olibanum, musks, and a bit more lavender than the standard varieties of Y. Sillage is close as I'd gather from a parfum concentration, with projection dying off after an hour, but wearing steadfastly until you scrub from skin. Best use here will be winter time in romantic or casual night out scenarios, but this one has no formal or night club potential and wears too sweet for the office. On the bright side, Y Le Parfum is darker and denser so it feels a tad more mature than the rest of the range.

At very least, YSL waited until they had a bit more under the collective "Y belt" before dropping Y Le Parfum, with the clubber variant Y Live (2019) followed by the summer day-runner Y Eau Fraîche (2020), but they were both sort of superfluous themselves unless you're a hardcore Y addict. If you are, then you now have a Y for work, play, cold, warm, day, or night, meaning you can gas out the rest of us with your aromachemical wake 365 days a year. Oh what joy! In all seriousness, I don't hate Y Le Parfum, but the sweet spot for me is and will remain Y Eau de Parfum (2018), in which Dominique Ropion redressed his own work in the nightmarish original eau de toilette into something fuller, rounder, and more complete. Really, the line could have stopped there outside maybe the more aquatic flanker, as Y EdP can cover the clubbing and winter requirements on it's own. Still, if you're a huge fan, I won't begrudge you picking this up, but I'm rather indifferent about Y Le Parfum because I don't see the value in a darker, duller, heavier Y experience that does nothing to add or improve the DNA. Neutral
29th June, 2021

Ferragamo Intense Leather by Salvatore Ferragamo

Ferragamo Intense Leather by Salvatore Ferragamo (2021) is ostensibly for fans of the original Ferragamo Eau de Toilette (2020) from the previous year, so there isn't a ton to say for people who tested that and found it completely unwearable. WIth that in mind, I'll keep my thoughts on this flanker pretty brief because to expand upon it is really just talking about the original pillar and you can read that over at the relevant review for the scent. I guess it's something of a nod to Ferragamo for making a flanker that actually behaves as a flanker should, by presenting the core idea of the main fragrance with a modification or slight twist that makes it literally a good flanking option for those wanted an expanded array of choices within the chosen range, but whatever. Having near-identical packaging and bottles is something I can see causing some confusion down the road, especially when this range hits discounters like all Ferragamos do, so make note of that if you go exploring.

The opening is going to be a similar semi-blue fragrance vibe of vacuum-distilled "sweet" betgamot and lemon that I mentioned in my review of the original. This "creamy citrus" note again mixes with some violet and tonka in the mid, making a smooth modern masculine accord that will appeal to the mallwalkers or compliment seekers of the men's fragrance market, but a shot of pink pepper and some added clary sage bring in aromatic heft missing from the main entry of the line. Once we start getting serious about the dry down, a bit of tart apple and lily of the valley raw materials shows up (I can't really tell you which aromachemical is responsible for these, too much blending), and then some of the pasty labdabum-like musk compound from the original, spurred on by an addition of fuzzy cashmeran. Methinks this combo is responsible for the slight leather feel in the original, and they are cranked up here with what also feels like some cypriol for a sour-ish leather finish that lands on the bog-standard evernyl and ambroxan base. Wear time is about 8 hours and sillage is about the same too, just more... "leathery". Best use is fall through spring casual and office wearing.

What this flanker feels most like to me is someone going back and trying to "complete" the original fragrance, which was perfectly sufficient if a tad forgettable beforehand. If Antoine Maisondieu is responsible for this, all he really did is succeed in creating a mildly more interesting variation on a theme, and made one for the fans but little else. If you're not a fan of the self-titled masculine range, or just don't know if you are, then you could all the same just put both fragrances behind your back and pick one blind, being just as satisfied (or disastisfied) either way. Maybe Ferragamo Intense Leather is marginally more intense in the way Yves Saint Laurent Jazz Prestige (1993) was over the original Jazz (1988), but I don't think the difference is even that pronounced. What I do think is this fragrance comes across likeable but not memorable, but since it exists purely as a back-to-the-roots flanker, I can't fault it for that. The Ferragamo range is still one of the more unique of the "blue juices" out there, and that's worth something. Thumbs up

29th June, 2021

Amber Cologne by Bortnikoff

Amber Cologne by Bortnikoff (2019) is not what it seems when you first smell it, which is part of the charm. One would think with a name like "Amber Cologne" that this would be primarily about amber, but one would be wrong, considering Musk Cologne (2019) was clearly not all about the deer musk in the composition. Trying this after Musk Cologne, I admit having an initial expectation of another primarily citric affair, with juicy sweetness reigned in by natural spices, floral absolutes, and the resinous base materials Dmitry Bortnikoff likes to use. However, I'm presented here with something which is not actually that at all, and am pleasantly surprised. Sure, the citrus is still sweet, the base is still resinous and musky, but a much larger focus on floral notes is to be found here, hence the surprise. Amber does play a small role just as musk does in Musk cologne, so this isn't a total misnomer, but the ultimate selling point is frangipani and jasmine here, not amber. I've smelled quite a few wel-done niche frangipani and/or jasmine configurations in the niche perfume world, so Amber Cologne isn't so unique in the grand scheme, but is very unique when compared to the rest of the range.

The opening is pretty much jasmine and frangipani right out the gate, with the citrus assortment (of which there is a lot) plays catch-up. Bergamot, lemon, grapefruit, and orange are all mentioned in the note pyramid from the brand, but they honestly lay in the background while the florals do all the talking. From there, the fragrance becomes mostly about vanilla, which is another startling turn as by now you might expect a small peep of amber, but nope. Jasmine, vanilla, frangipani, and sweet citruses become bolstered by the oriental base of sandalwood, ambergris, the amber, and a small pinch of oud which I don't feel myself, but might just be micro-dosed for body. The amber really is just a tiny bit of fuzzy spiciness like cardamom, nutmeg, and labdanum (the latter being a base ingredient for amber compounds), sitting quietly in its administrative desk job while the frangipani, jasmine, and vanilla work the front lines. Wear time is about 8 hours, and projection is booming for the first hour then moderate thereafter. This feels best for spring/summer casual use to me, and being so floral as it is, leans feminine but still tows the line of unisex overall. One thing is for sure, none of the headier oriental ingredients overtake the lighter floral ones, showing a mastery of blending on Bortnikoff's part.

Amber Cologne doesn't get the talk that Musk Cologne received even though it launched the same year as part of the same collection. Further overshadowed by Vesna Cologne (2020) and Moss Cologne (2020) from the following year, and finally Oud Cologne (2021) after that, Amber Cologne remains the one that only people who buy (or sample) complete sets seem to remark upon. You seldom see Amber Cologne among those who only own one or two Bortnikoff fragrances, for example. Since I get my samples for review second-hand from my readers (bless you), I have the privilege of being detached from any hype or anticipation of what I just paid for, so I can sniff and sit back to judge with little to bias beyond my own sense of value in the hobby. With that being said, I think Amber Cologne is a bit of an underdog, and underrated among the cologne collection released by the house thus far; it's clearly different from the rest and the least "cologne" of the bunch, just feeling like a well-made summery floral. Granted, this is still pretty high in cost per milliliter, but so it goes for all-natural hand-compounded artisanals, so the affluent audience this is meant for shouldn't find much to gripe about there. Sample and see for yourself. Thumbs up
28th June, 2021

Oud Cologne by Bortnikoff

Oud Cologne by Bortnikoff (2021) isn't worlds apart from their Muak Cologne (2019), in that it presents a mostly citrus-forward concoction meant to wear light but satisfying. Major differences come from the choice of base material here, being a light sliver of oud rather than the deer musk, and the amping up from eau de parfum concentration to extrait de parfum. I likw Oud Cologne but there is just so little different about it compared to Musk Cologne that I feel as though I have little to say about it, although that doesn't speak negatively of the experience in any way. This is, without a doubt, the DNA of Musk Cologne transferred over to a base containing a small quotient of oud, and the perfumer calls it an easy-wearing oriental fougère, but I'm not getting much of that myself. $250 for 50ml of extrait may just be a lifetime supply for collectors with larger wardrobes that never visit the same fragrance more than a handful of times in a year, but for those looking to get something to daily drive, this is not an economical "cologne" by any means, and potentially irreplaceable because it's artisanal.

The opening has a very familiar rounded orange and bergamot opening made a bit sweeter and thicker with pink pepper, grapefruit, and juniper. The latter isn't dosed high and therefore not medicinal, but it's the added sharpness that keeps Oud Cologne from being too sweet in the beginning. Geranium and nutmeg come next, although I don't get much of the claimed rose in the note pyramid. Maybe the geranium is where Bortnikiff gets off calling this a fougère, but I'm not feeling it. Still, what's here is very good, a bit metallic, a bit sweet, and a bit woody into the base. The benzoin and oud bring the oriental facets, being creamy and a bit more medicincal joining the juniper up top, while tonka and ambergris add a mineralic hay-like muskiness that finishes off with aromatic pine and vetiver. The sweetness of the citruses continue to steal the show though, which is a similar trick to what Musk Cologne did, belying the star of said show to make the fragrance more about the top and mid than the base. Wear time is over 10 hours, but projection is close as expected. I find Oud Cologne too sweet to be fresh like a typical cologne in high heat, but you could most certainly pull this off year-round otherwise.

Collectors of Bortnikoff or artisanal all-natural and handmade micro-batch fragrances like this don't need convining from me of the scent's value and worthiness, as you've already been converted. Everyone else looking to get their foot in the door with this brand is better looking into Musk Cologne, which is almost $100 cheaper, and does pretty much the same thing. If you have objections to animal musk, Oud Cologne may be a more expensive but acceptible alternative as it does strive to be so close in tone (despite what the marketing blurb says), although this is the first time I've ever not been completely bowled over or smitten by a Bortnikoff so I feel unintentionally ambivalent recommending it. Still, this is a good fragrance, made from "the good stuff" and doesn't fall completely apart or macerate into "brown smell oblivion" like some other artisanals I've sampled do, so Oud Cologne is another example of using ingredients and methods of the past with modern artistry to make something noteworthy for the enthusiasts who've moved beyond shopping at the perfume counters with "the rest of us". If you have the money to bite, you could do far worse than this. Thumbs up
28th June, 2021